Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson was a flamboyant linebacker whose various shenanigans made headlines during his football career.
He earned the nickname “Wild Man” during his college days at Langston University. One of his trademark antics was taunting opposing players inside their team bus.
Henderson also became the first NFL player to dunk the football through the goalposts as a rookie with the Dallas Cowboys in 1975.
He also insulted Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw in public.
Henderson’s excessive drug and alcohol use and partying lifestyle was no secret to fans and pundits alike. It turned out he hung out with the likes of Richard Pryor and Marvin Gaye during his heyday with the Cowboys.
Despite Henderson’s shenanigans, he helped the Cowboys win their second Super Bowl title following the 1977 NFL season.
Fortunately, Thomas Henderson turned over a new leaf after he played his last down in the NFL: he dropped his “Hollywood” alter ego and became a changed man.
Had Henderson kept himself in check much earlier, he would’ve become a perennial Pro Bowler in the National Football League.
Thomas Henderson was born in Austin, TX on March 1, 1953.
His single teenage mother raised him in the eastern part of the city.
Henderson endured poverty during his formative years in the Lone Star State.
“My family was very, very poor. Like no-toilet-paper poor,” Henderson told The Oklahoman’s Christian Clark in 2016. “It was seven people living in about 500 square feet.”
He told Sports Illustrated’s Joe Marshall in January 1979 that he got into football because he had no money while he was growing up.
He attended L.C. Anderson High School in his hometown
Henderson played football for the L.C. Anderson Trojans’ B team until his sophomore season in 1969.
Fed up with the poverty in Austin, Henderson called up his grandmother and asked her if he could live with her.
He soon moved in with her in Oklahoma City, OK prior to his junior year in high school.
Henderson eventually transferred to Douglass High School.
OKC. My high school coach Mr. Donald Burns died in the building blown up downtown OKC. We filmed there today. TH pic.twitter.com/A78ADnLpho
— Hollywood Henderson (@hollywoodhend) June 23, 2017
Ironically, the team is also nicknamed “Trojans.”
Henderson had to sit out his junior campaign to comply with a border-state school transfer rule.
He spent the football season filming Trojans games from the bleachers with his welding teacher, per Clark.
Henderson cried while he was filming: he desperately wanted to join his teammates on the high school gridiron.
Henderson finally got his chance and starred for the Trojans at defensive end as a senior in 1970.
He would embark on a college football career with the Langston Lions in the next phase of his gridiron journey.
College Days With The Langston Lions
Thomas Henderson spent his college days at Langston University in Langston, OK from 1971 to 1974.
Henderson, who began his college football career as a walk-on, already had a brash personality during his days with the Langston Lions.
According to Marshall, Henderson made it a habit to board the visiting teams’ buses and announce he was going to show them up on the gridiron.
Henderson also once presented singer Sammy Davis, Jr. with an autographed photo of himself after a concert at Langston University.
“Thomas was such a big shot that even his own guys were taking cheap shots at him in practice,” a Langston coach told Marshall in 1979.
Consequently, Thomas Henderson earned the moniker “Wild Man’ in Langston before he became “Hollywood” in the professional ranks.
Henderson backed up his smack talk with solid play on the college gridiron.
He led the Lions to an impressive 11-2 win-loss record and a playoff berth during his junior season in 1973.
Henderson also became a two-time NAIA All-American and two-time Little All-American in 1973 and 1974.
The pinnacle of his college football career came in 1974 when he earned Southwest District Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Henderson credited veteran pro scout Tank Younger for paving the way for a career in the National Football League.
When Younger was scouting for the Los Angeles Rams in the mid-1970s, he and other scouts visited Langston, OK to size up some of the Lions’ prospects.
Henderson told the “HBCU Legends Speak” podcast with Kyle T. Mosley in January 2022 he wore his low-cut Converse shoes and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds.
His blistering speed mesmerized Younger and the other pro scouts in attendance.
Thomas Henderson became part of a Dallas Cowboys juggernaut under head coach Tom Landry in the National Football League.
Pro Football Career
The Dallas Cowboys made Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson the 18th overall selection of the 1975 NFL Draft.
Henderson didn’t live up to his billing as a first-round draft pick in his first two years in the National Football League.
He only had 2.5 sacks and one fumble recovery during that span while playing mostly on special teams.
“I knew they wouldn’t cut me because I was a No. 1 draft choice, so I didn’t work,” Henderson told Marshall before Super Bowl X in 1979. “I didn’t care. I couldn’t count the number of times I fell asleep in meetings.”
Henderson also had a hard time grasping the nuances of the Cowboys’ complicated playbook which was a stark contrast from the “5-2, Sic ‘Em” system he learned with the Langston Lions in college.
Despite Henderson’s struggles in the early goings of his NFL career, he became the first player to dunk the football through the goalposts after he scored a touchdown on a kickoff return in 1975.
— Frank Guridy (@fguridy) January 6, 2018
Tom Landry’s Cowboys averaged eleven wins and made it to the Super Bowl in Henderson’s second pro season.
Henderson almost scored a touchdown in his first Super Bowl game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 18, 1976 in Miami, FL.
The rookie received a handoff from running back Preston Pearson and ran 48 yards down the left sideline before Steelers kicker Roy Gerela shoved him out of bounds.
Henderson swore if Cowboys safety Randy Hughes blocked Gerela on that particular play, he would’ve made it to the end zone unscathed.
Henderson preferred Adidas shoes during his seven-year NFL career.
However, Puma made him an offer he couldn’t refuse prior to Super Bowl X.
Henderson told the Pioneer Press’ Chris Tomasson in 2018 that Puma asked him to wear their shoes and gave him a bag with $3,000 in cash before the game.
When Henderson tested the shoes before kickoff, he felt they were like ballet shoes that offered no protection whatsoever.
Henderson never wore them.
Instead, he wore socks over his regular Adidas shoes and painted them with the Puma logo.
He never told Puma about his improvisation.
Henderson acquired his famous “Hollywood” nickname during his third year in the pro football ranks in 1977.
His Cowboys teammate Robert Newhouse bestowed the nickname on Henderson when he appeared at practice riding a limousine while wearing a fur coat.
He started all of the Cowboys’ fourteen games that season. He had 1.5 sacks, three interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and a defensive touchdown in the 1977 NFL campaign.
To nobody’s surprise, Henderson earned his first and only Pro Bowl nod in 1978.
Dallas was a juggernaut that won twelve of its fourteen regular-season games when Henderson became a Pro Bowler.
Henderson admitted to the Pioneer Press in 2018 that he was hooked on cocaine by the time Super Bowl XII against the Denver Broncos kicked off in New Orleans, LA on January 15, 1978.
When Tomasson asked Henderson if he was high during the week leading up to the big game, he replied in the affirmative.
“I was with Richard Pryor and Marvin Gaye, so what do you think I was doing?” Henderson told Tomasson forty years later.
Both Pryor and Gaye were celebrities with histories of drug use. Henderson spent time with them off the gridiron during his pro football career.
Henderson told Tomasson that both Pryor and Gaye loved football.
Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson was a treasure in the late 70's….was the prototype for what Lawrence Taylor would become and had a master troll game such as here after Super Bowl XII when the Cowboys beat Denver and Thomas showed what they did to the Orange Crush pic.twitter.com/iAdTzcEJLD
— PolyesterPalace (@PolyesterPalace) February 6, 2022
Henderson claimed he didn’t do drugs the weekend before Super Bowl XII, which the Cowboys won handily, 27-10.
Instead, he smoked cigarettes the night before.
Henderson made his presence felt on defense during Super Bowl XII.
He had the Cowboys’ first two tackles of the game. Officials also slapped him with a 15-yard penalty for his roughhousing tactics on Broncos punt returner Rick Upchurch.
Henderson initially aimed for Upchurch’s throat as the latter was about to return Danny White’s punt that landed on the Broncos’ 32-yard line.
Henderson hit Upchurch on the shoulder instead. The penalty drew the ire of Cowboys head coach Tom Landry.
When Landry asked Henderson about the unnecessary roughness call, the latter claimed Dallas assistant coach Mike Ditka ordered him to hit Upchurch, per Tomasson.
Henderson’s “Hollywood” nickname became more prominent as his pro football career progressed.
During the buildup to Super Bowl XIII against the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 21, 1979 in Miami, FL, Henderson took shots at quarterback Terry Bradshaw.
He told reporters that Bradshaw “couldn’t spell ‘cat’ if you spotted him with the ‘c’ and the ‘a..'”
Henderson’s remarks infuriated Landry once again, per Tomasson.
Henderson told the Pioneer Press that he got the idea from Cowboys vice president of player personnel Gil Brandt.
Henderson claimed Brandt sat beside him in the locker room and told a story about Bradshaw wanting to attend LSU after his high school football career.
Apparently, Bradshaw’s grades and his inability to pass the ACT and SAT made him go to Louisiana Tech instead.
Henderson thought Bradshaw wasn’t smart enough to spell “cat” if he couldn’t pass the ACT and SAT, hence the spelling commotion with the media.
For his part, Brandt insisted to Tomasson that his conversation with Henderson never went the way the controversial linebacker claimed.
Brandt loved Bradshaw’s upside but figured the Cowboy’s defense could confuse him.
In fact, Brandt loved Bradshaw’s abilities so much that Dallas tried to trade up in the 1970 NFL Draft so they could make him a Cowboy, per the Pioneer Press.
Regrettably, that plan never materialized.
Henderson had his shining moment against Bradshaw in Super Bowl XIII. His sack of the Steelers quarterback in the second quarter made him fumble the pigskin.
Cowboys linebacker Mike Hegman scooped up the loose ball and took it the other way for a 37-yard defensive touchdown.
Pittsburgh eventually prevailed, 35-31. Bradshaw’s 318 passing yards and four touchdowns earned him Super Bowl XIII MVP honors.
Henderson used a spray bottle that had a mixture of cocaine and water during Super Bowl XIII.
He told Tomasson that he used the concoction to relieve a bloody and deviated septum and huge scab he had. He never wanted to get high during the Super Bowl.
However, when Henderson was no longer within the confines of the Orange Bowl (the venue of Super Bowl XIII), he was up to his old tricks.
He received some narcotics from several Colombian drug dealers in Miami, which was notorious for cocaine.
Henderson told Tomasson that he carried approximately four ounces of drugs on the charter flight back to Dallas after Super Bowl XIII.
Henderson’s drug use eventually worsened in the 1979 NFL season.
Brandt received an anonymous call about the Cowboys linebacker’s substance abuse issues. He confronted Henderson about it but the latter denied he was into drugs.
However, Henderson habitually got his liquefied cocaine fix from an inhaler that he hid in his pocket during his NFL career, per Clark.
He insisted the cocaine provided relief from unbearable headaches that he had to endure during his time in the NFL.
Things reached a boiling point on November 18, 1979 during a 34-20 loss to the Washington Redskins.
Cowboys head coach Tom Landry caught Henderson hamming it up and displaying handkerchiefs with Cowboys logos in front of television cameras that day.
Landry got so fed up with Henderson’s antics that he released him from the Cowboys after the game.
1979 Oilers at Cowboys – Pregame interview by Mike Adamle with soon to be Oilers LB Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson after TH's antics in Washington had literally turned Tom Landry and teammates against him, leading to his release. Henderson calls DD Lewis a low-talent LB #LuvYaBlue pic.twitter.com/bvZ190tAlw
— 𝕃𝕦𝕧 𝕐𝕒 𝔹𝕝𝕦𝕖 (@BudsOilers) July 27, 2021
Henderson publicly admitted his drug issues and went into rehabilitation at a facility in Arizona, per The Oklahoman.
According to the Los Angeles Times’ Mike Downey, Henderson smoked dope on the clinic’s steps before he entered the facility.
Henderson even snuck cocaine into his room between treatments.
After Henderson checked out of the rehab facility, he spent short, injury-riddled stints with the Houston Oilers and Miami Dolphins in ensuing years.
He eventually played his final NFL down following the 1981 NFL season.
Thomas “Holywood” Henderson finished his seven-year pro football career with 13.5 sacks, four interceptions, four fumble recoveries, and one defensive touchdown.
The Dallas Cowboys averaged an impressive eleven wins per season when Henderson suited up for them from 1975 to 1979.
They won their second Super Bowl trophy during Henderson’s breakout campaign in 1977.
It was also Tom Landry’s second Vince Lombardi Trophy during his legendary 29-year coaching career with the Cowboys.
Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson has two daughters and five grandchildren.
One of his grandsons excelled as a high school football wide receiver.
He currently splits his time between Austin, TX and Boca Raton, FL.
Henderson made headlines two years after he played his last NFL down in 1981.
Authorities arrested Henderson in 1983 for abusing cocaine with two teenage girls. He also allegedly sexually abused one of them.
Henderson insisted the encounter was consensual and then pleaded no contest, per the Pioneer Press.
He had no choice but to put up his Super Bowl XII ring for bail.
“I had to give them something so they didn’t think I was going to run off to Canada,” Henderson told Tomasson thirty-five years later. “And then the IRS seized it and put it up for auction.”
Henderson also disagreed with the IRS’ assessment saying he had owed them $156,881 in back taxes. He claimed the two sides eventually sorted things out.
Sometime in the early 1990s, Henderson met his girlfriend at a Dallas restaurant. She showed him a jewelry box that contained a surprise.
It was his Super Bowl XII ring from 1978.
Henderson told Tomasson in 2018 that his girlfriend paid $11,000 for the Super Bowl XII ring. She bought it from a staunch Dallas Cowboys fan from Levelland, TX named Robert Briscoe.
Henderson hadn’t worn the ring in more than a decade and lost all hope of ever seeing it again.
She told him that he deserved it when she handed the ring over.
When she did, he bawled like a baby.
Henderson has been wearing that ring proudly ever since. It’s a constant reminder of his greatest achievement on the gridiron.
At the time, he had long completed his 28-month prison sentence for the 1983 conviction.
It turned out his time in prison was his saving grace: he read plenty of books, attended church, and weaned off the booze and drugs while he was incarcerated.
He hasn’t consumed alcohol since November 8, 1983.
That was the day Henderson told Tomasson “Hollywood” died.
“When I was 30, if I didn’t change, I wouldn’t have made it to thirty-five,” Henderson told the Pioneer Press in 2018.
Henderson bared his soul and wrote a book entitled “Out of Control: Confessions of an NFL Casualty” which went on sale in the fall of 1987, per The Los Angeles Times.
Henderson’s life changed radically just three years later.
According to Tomasson, Henderson won $20 million from Lotto Texas in 2000. His net earnings after taxes were $9 million.
Henderson bought the winning ticket at Nau’s Drug where he’s a regular customer. He had spent roughly $20,000 on the lottery for a decade before coming up with the winning combination.
Henderson hit paydirt in the local lottery a decade later: he also won $50,000 in 2010.
He told The Oklahoman he’s lived a slower-paced lifestyle since hitting the lotto jackpot in 2000.
Henderson has been featured in FMSP Production videos warning about the dangers of drug addiction.
Henderson became a member of the Black College Hall of Fame in 2018.
He earned a doctorate degree from his alma mater Langston University a year later.
After Henderson presented his alma mater Douglass High School with a gold NFL Super Bowl 50th Anniversary celebration football in the winter of 2016, he gave an inspirational message to a packed Douglass Auditorium.
“If you fall, fall on your back,” Henderson said (via The Oklahoman). “Because if you can look up, you can get up. And I got up.”
Henderson told ANDSCAPE’s Rhiannon Walker in 2017 that he attends church just once yearly – on Easter Sunday.
He compared Jesus’ death and resurrection to his own triumph off the gridiron.
Thomas Henderson has been an avid golfer during his retirement years.