Danny Pintauro from Who’s the Boss? Returns To Action After Tabloid Trip, Addiction And ‘Trauma’ Rejection

DANNY PINTAURO rolled out

Matthew Murphy

ex Who is the boss? Actor Danny Pintauro is set to return to Hollywood with his first major role in 30 years – a part in the Lifetime film Christmas.

But it was a sci-fi series that inspired him to revive his career, which had largely waned since his eight-season run playing Judith Light’s son on the ABC sitcom ended in 1992. While streaming Star Trek: Discovery home in Austin last year, he watched as stars Wilson Cruz and Anthony Rapp, both openly gay, “had this beautiful kiss,” he says in the new issue of PEOPLE.

This time belonged to Pintauro, 46, a self-described big believer in fate and omens. He was publicly forced out of the closet by The National Enquirer in 1997, a time when there weren’t many gay actors out at all, let alone gay actors kissing on TV. While marveling at how much has changed, Pintauro was “envious,” he says. “It made me want to participate.”

He took it as a sign. “Something just clicked,” he says. “I finally felt ready.”

(Left to Right) Danny Pintauro and Giancarlo Sabogal star in A Country Christmas Harmony

(Left to Right) Danny Pintauro and Giancarlo Sabogal star in A Country Christmas Harmony

For years he didn’t want to get back into the game. “I had a lot of trauma from my time after that Who is the boss?” he says. He became addicted to drugs, was diagnosed with HIV, had financial difficulties and faced repeated professional rejections.

He recalls thinking “maybe I was a child actor, and that’s all I was supposed to be.” But he now has the attitude of a survivor who knows that better days lie ahead. “There are possibilities,” he says, “from there.”

RELATED: Danny Pintauro Discusses Life After Revealing He’s HIV+: ‘I’m Much Happier as a Person Without Secrets’

He had the right to have a religion. After telling her husband, Wil Tabares, 54, of her goal to return to Hollywood, Pintauro quit her job as a veterinary technician, called her former manager, got her first audition and landed a role. A Country Christmas Harmony, playing the best friend and assistant of a country singer (Brooke Elliott) trying to boost her sagging career. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says of the first gig he tried out for.

It had been twenty or thirty years since the people of New Jersey had that kind of luck. His mother, the late Margaret, was a talented hairdresser-turned-talent, and his father, John, who worked in a lumber shop, got their only child into acting early on. “Everything, I would get,” says Pintauro: commercials, the horror film Cujo and of course, Who is the boss?

The popular comedy (in its early days it was viewed by 30 million people a week) about a housekeeper (Tony Danza) who lived for a successful advertising executive (Light) turned Pintauro into a household name. home But in later years when he was a teenager, says the actor, the producers did not know “what I should do.”

RELATED: The Cast of Who is the boss?: Where Are They Now?

Although he wasn’t out yet, Pintauro says his sexuality was obvious to others. “They didn’t feel that my character was dating a believable girl,” he says. So he was stuck with banal stories like being scratched by a car accident. “I didn’t understand why,” says Pintauro, who thought, “They don’t want me to be here.” (Pintauro is clear that the feeling did not stem from his costars, including Light, Danza and Alyssa Milano, who were all “fantastic,” he says.)

At the same time, he was struggling socially at his LA school. “I just wanted to be a normal person,” says Pintauro, who attended the morning class before going on set. When his classmates realized he wasn’t going to live up to the “celebrity vibe,” they ignored him. “I had no friends,” he says. “So you have two cases of me but do not feel wanted, and that stuck with me.”

When Boss returned to running in 1992, Pintauro threw himself into schoolwork and went to Stanford University, where he studied to become a veterinarian. By then, “acting was not in my realm of thought,” he says. But he failed in chemistry and shifted gears into the theater program.

Then came the call from the Questioner threatening to reveal his sexuality. Pintauro, who was out to his friends and family at that time, gave an interview to control the situation. “I’m trying to study, and suddenly I have to deal with this,” he says.

DANNY PINTAURO rolled out

DANNY PINTAURO rolled out

courtesy of the Everett Collection

Although he says he was “angry” at first, he calmed down when fans told him how much he had inspired them after the article was published: “I’ve still got a box of letters from people on throughout the country.”

After college he moved to New York City but struggled to find work as a theater director. He used up a lot of his child-star savings paying for Stanford, so he got odd jobs acting in plays or waiting tables. He also fell in with a bad crowd, joined clubs and started doing drugs. “I was lost,” he says. “A year goes by, and I’m making a lot of crystal meth.” During one sexual encounter while high on drugs, he contracted HIV.

New York “became an ugly place” with bad memories, says Pintauro, who began taking medication to treat the virus. To make a fresh start, he moved back to LA, quit drugs without going to rehab and tried to get back into acting.

Alas, “there were very few auditions,” he says. Another ego blow: It was a punch line on a 2003 episode of it Will & Grainne. When his representative contacted the show to introduce Pintauro, they denied it. “I said, ‘Well, if you don’t invite me, I’ll buy my way forward.’

He bid for and won a walking role at a charity auction. But after what he calls “a month of running around” from the show, he decided not to film, he says. “It brought back all that trauma of not feeling needed.” He took it as a sign from the Universe to move on from show business.

Pintauro tried random gigs: manager at PF Chang’s, casting assistant and Tupperware sales consultant, which is how he met Tabares at a Tupperware party in 2012. Inspiration struck, and within two years they were married. “My husband,” says Pintuaro, “means everything to me.”

The two settled in Austin, where Pintauro trained to become a veterinary technician. They weren’t rich – “We’re always struggling,” he says – but they were happy. “I’ve definitely had a great life,” says Pintauro, who is healthy (his viral load is undetectable) and shares three rescue dogs with Tabares. “There was no reason to disturb the balance.” Still, after watching the Star Trek: Discovery kiss, Pintauro couldn’t act out of his head.

RELATED: Who is the boss? Stars Alyssa Milano and Danny Pintauro reunite at the Tony Danza Cabaret Show in LA

Milano, his friend and former costar, is very happy that he is coming back. “I’m very proud of Dan,” she says. “Not only for following his lifelong dream but even more for being a good person and staying true to who he is despite the hardships he faces.”

The two may share the screen again on the upcoming Amazon Freevee Who is the boss? a sequel series, which will focus on the character of Danza and his daughter Samantha (Milano). When asked if he will appear, Pintauro is coy. “I was involved in several conversations,” he says. But he’s also keen to prove he’s not the only kid from the sitcom: “I can play all kinds of parts.”

Pintauro, who recently moved to the LA area with Tabares, is comforted by the thought that things aren’t falling apart, but he’s confident that they will. “I can feel it in my gut,” he says.

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A Country Christmas Harmony premieres on Lifetime November 18.

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