Heather Thomas Emerges from the 'Private Hell' of Drug Addiction with the Help of Her Therapist Mate
Heather Thomas had just finished taping last season’s final episode of the Fall Guy, when her mother showed up on the L.A. set with bad news: Heather’s father, Leon, a dean in the California State University system, was in the hospital. Thomas rushed to St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica. But when she arrived, her father wasn’t there. Instead she was met by a group of family members and friends. The phony illness was just a ploy to get Thomas, a cocaine addict as well as a regular user of the diuretic Lasix for the past four years, to St. John’s, which is noted for its thriving drug detoxification and treatment clinic.
Heather Thomas’ life has taken a dramatic new course in the past six months. For starters, the 28-year-old actress has been drug free since that day when an imaginary illness brought her to St. John’s, where she enrolled in the detox program on the spot. The other change of significance is evidenced by the diamond-and-sapphire wedding band she wears on her ring finger. At a dinner party in late March she met Allan Rosenthal, the 34-year-old co-founder of Cocaine Anonymous and a psychotherapist who specializes in treating patients with drug problems. Four months later, they flew to Las Vegas and got married. “I’m infinitely happier,” says Heather. “I have someone who totally supports me and loves me unconditionally.”
Thomas’ drug use dates back to the sixth grade in Santa Monica and persisted through junior and senior high school. “I was taking acid and making straight A’s,” recalls Thomas. “I just thought it was mind expanding.” At UCLA, where she studied theater and screenwriting, Thomas started to use cocaine. But it wasn’t until 1981, a year after she landed the role of Jody, Lee Majors’ stuntwoman sidekick on the Fall Guy, that her drug problems escalated. An obsession with thinness led the 57″ Thomas to take frequent doses of Lasix, a diuretic that can cause severe lethargy. To perk herself up she took more and more cocaine. “At first I was in a honeymoon stage with the drug. I felt that I was getting a lot for my money. It enabled me to stay up all night and then work all the next day,” she says. Thomas claims she never took cocaine on the job. “Cocaine is not approved of on sets,” she says. “It’s not clubby to do it anymore. It is just a private hell.”
Though she is secure in her role as Fall Guy’s sexy second banana, associates suggest that she had trouble getting parts when the series wasn’t shooting. “Word was out on Heather,” says an acquaintance. “People knew she had a problem.” Her addictions took their toll; at one point she dropped from 125 to 105 pounds and, more recently, she began falling asleep between takes. “Sometimes I was in a minicoma,” confesses Thomas. When she passed out in front of Majors last year, Heather says Lee called her manager, who alerted her parents.
Thomas had been denying her addiction for four years, but confronted by her distraught family she admitted her problem and agreed to join St. John’s drug program. “It was a big relief to me,” says Heather. “I’d been on a roller coaster and I wanted to get off. If my family hadn’t intervened, I probably would have gone on my merry way until I lost my job or I died.”
When she arrived at St. John’s, Thomas was suffering from pneumonia, scarred lungs and inflamed kidneys. “The doctors said I should have been dead three years ago,” she recalls. During the clinic’s intensive three-week program, Thomas lived at the hospital and received daily shots of vitamins and potassium to restore the chemical balance in her body. Meanwhile, her spirits were lifted by her romance with Rosenthal, who was married briefly in his early 20s. “I pursued him heavily,” admits Heather. “I called him and bugged the hell out of him, going to see him wearing sexy clothes like really tight pants.” On August 1, after Thomas had gone back to work, Rosenthal showed up on the set to have lunch with her. They ended up “getting amorous,” as Rosenthal puts it, in a vacant production office and decided to elope that night. They chartered a plane to Las Vegas and were married in a midnight ceremony at the Little Church of the West.
Although Thomas continues to attend weekly group meetings at St. John’s Hospital, her husband provides her most important support. Under his influence she has also forsworn caffeine and cigarettes (much harder than giving up drugs, notes Heather). And Rosenthal, who insists he has never been motivated by money, is teaching her to be more spiritual. “I’m reading and thinking more,” says Heather, who has become more responsible as well. She is keeping a checkbook for the first time since college. “I would let the business manager do it,” Thomas recalls, “and just go out and buy furs and Jaguars and things.”
A California native, Rosenthal experimented with drugs as a teenager in L.A. but never became addicted. He decided to become a psychologist while taking a course in abnormal psychology at the USC. The class was assigned to spend two weeks observing at a mental hospital. With his long hair, beard and disheveled clothes, Rosenthal so resembled the patients that one of the guards assumed he was a patient and locked him up with the inmates for a few hours. After becoming a licensed psychotherapist in 1974, Rosenthal worked at a series of drug clinics, including the well-known Beverly Glen, where he was the chief clinical therapist. He now maintains a private practice, working out of a West L.A. office. Allan’s patients include entertainers, some of whom seem to be extremely dependent on him. To bolster his clients’ confidence, Allan sometimes accompanies them to recording sessions, dinner parties and even live performances.
Thomas is more independent. She rises at 4 a.m. and leaves the couple’s three-bedroom Santa Monica apartment to report to the Fall Guy set, where she often puts in 12-plus-hour days. Marriage has mellowed her. Where she once came across as selfish and strong-willed, Thomas is now calm, relaxed and warmed up to room temperature. And despite the years of drug use, the pinup body appears free of wear and tear. In the evenings Thomas and Rosenthal relax in the sauna and then go out for a quiet, romantic dinner. Afterward, they get in Heather’s red Jaguar and drive to a bluff overlooking the ocean and think about their future—buying a house and having children are priorities. When she was taking drugs, she says, “I always felt so separate and lonely. Now I feel close to the whole universe.”