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While filming “Celebrity Fit Club Bootcamp,” former child star Willie Aames found himself wondering what the point was of learning what to do if somebody pointed a gun at his head.
“When we practiced it, I thought, that’s kind of nice, but when are we going to ever use that?” he told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira in New York on Wednesday.
Then, while walking to a restaurant in Los Angeles last week with his family, he heard someone yelling behind him, turned around, “And there I was with a gun to my head.”
Aames, a former star of “Eight Is Enough” and “Charles in Charge,” was taking his wife, Maylo, to dinner to celebrate her 46th birthday. Also in the group were a female friend of Maylo’s and Willie Aames’ 27-year-old son by his first marriage, Christopher. The women were walking in front and the men behind them.
“I heard a bunch of yelling behind us. I thought somebody was partying too much,” said Willie Aames, who was in town to promote “Grace Is Enough,” the book he wrote with his wife.
But the gun was real — a .45, he said. And the guy holding it was screaming obscenities at the group, asking which one of them was going to die that night.
He told the story as if it were no big deal. “It’s kind of overblown,” he said. He could say that because during the filming of “Celebrity Fit Club Bootcamp” he and his fellow stars had been trained in the Israeli Special Forces hand-to-hand combat technique called Krav Maga.
“Oddly enough, one of the things we focused on was how to take a gun away from a guy when he had it to your head,” he said.
“Every time he would take the gun and put it in my son’s face or point it at the girls, I made a point to get between them and the gun and kind of move in to where I could make a move on him,” Willie Aames said. “I was very, very calm. I think that’s the thing that freaked the guy out, because I was so calm.”
Before he could get close enough to disarm the mugger, his son threw his wallet at the man, who grabbed it and ran to a car, in which he sped away. His take was $15.
Willie and Maylo Aames were far more interested in talking about their book, which is a painfully honest retelling of their traumatic lives and the redemption both found in their Christian faith.
Willie Aames was the famous and rich child star who hung out at the Playboy Mansion, fell headlong into drugs and alcohol, bedded every beautiful woman he could, and ultimately found sobriety, Jesus Christ and Maylo.
Maylo Upton-Aames was one of three children of a mother who fell into a religious cult and moved in with an abusive and violent man who raped his stepdaughter beginning when she was 11 years old.
“She was kind of involved in a religious underground cult,” Maylo Aames said of her mother. “We moved sometimes twice a year, every single year. There was a lot of drug abuse, a lot of physical abuse, a lot of sexual abuse, a lot of emotional putting you down. I ran away at 15, and went to live on the streets of Hollywood and kind of self-medicated with every drug I could find.”
“While I was riding around in limousines and eating at the White House, she was eating out of trash cans,” he told Vieira. “I’d get out of the limousine on Hollywood Boulevard to do a premiere, and she was sleeping in the doorway.”
Despite being homeless and a heavy drug user, she found her way into acting in individual episodes of television series starting when she was 19. It was while working on “Rocky Road” several years later that she met Willie Aames, who was by then sober, which made him, to her way of thinking, something of a geek.
But he pursued her because he saw something in her that she may not have seen in herself.
“What I saw in Maylo was a very honest person,” he said. “That’s what I wanted. I wanted honesty in my life.”
They married 22 years ago and have a daughter, Harleigh Jean, 17. For much of the second half of their marriage, Willie Aames spent a lot of time on the road, playing the role of the Christian superhero he created, “Bibleman.” He retired from the role in 2004.
They wrote the book separately, with neither reading what the other had written until the work was complete. In the finished book, they alternate chapters, their stories weaving naturally together.
Maylo Aames said she wanted to let other women who have been abused know that they are not alone.
“I really wanted to talk to women,” she told Vieira. “Willie was on the road for 10 years. We have a 22-year marriage that’s a great marriage — we communicate well — but I just think that no matter how good your marriage is, women, we get lonely, we have self-esteem issues. A lot of us are dealing with rape, abuse, things like that that we can overcome and find forgiveness.”
Willie Aames has a different motivation. “I wanted people to understand what it’s like to grow up emotionally in Hollywood — not just ‘Here’s what I did’ and ‘Here’s who I slept with’ and that sort of thing — but what’s going on psychologically and emotionally,” he said. “And then to let people know you do not have to end up being whatever deck of cards you were dealt. Everything can change. You can always have hope.”