Danny Pintauro from Who’s the Boss? Returns to acting after tabloid outing, addiction and ‘Trauma’ rejection

DANNY PINTAURO roll out

DANNY PINTAURO roll out

Matthew Murphy

Earlier Who is the boss? actor Danny Pintauro is making a Hollywood comeback with his first major role in 30 years – a role in a Lifetime Christmas movie.

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

The moment resonated with Pintauro, 46, a self-described strong believer in destiny and signs from the universe. He had been publicly forced out of the closet by him The National Investigator in 1997, a time when there were hardly any gay actors let alone gay actors kissing on TV. While marveling at how much has changed, Pintauro was “jealous,” he says. “It made me want to participate.”

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

(L to R) Danny Pintauro and Giancarlo Sabogal star in A Country Christmas Harmony

(L to R) Danny Pintauro and Giancarlo Sabogal star in A Country Christmas Harmony

For years he was not eager to get back into the game. “I had a lot of trauma from my time after Who is the boss?he says. He became addicted to drugs, was diagnosed with HIV, struggled financially and faced professional rejection time and time again.

He recalls thinking “maybe I was a child actor, and that’s all I should have been.” But he now has the prospect of someone who has survived the worst and knows better days are ahead. “Possibilities,” he says, “are there.”

RELATED: Danny Pintauro discusses life after revealing he’s HIV+: ‘I’m much happier as a person with no secrets’

He was right to have faith. After telling his husband, Wil Tabares, 54, about his goal to return to Hollywood, Pintauro resigned as a vet tech, called his former manager, secured his first audition, and landed a part in A rural Christmas harmony, the best friend and assistant to a country singer (Brooke Elliott) trying to boost her flaccid career. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says of getting the very first gig he tried for.

It had been decades since the New Jersey native had that kind of luck. His late mother, Margaret, a hairdresser turned talent agent, and father, John, who worked in a lumber yard, got their only child into acting early. “All I would get,” says Pintauro: commercials, the horror movie Cujo and of course, Who is the boss?

The hit comedy (in its heyday it had 30 million viewers a week) about a live-in housekeeper (Tony Danza) for a successful advertising executive (Light) made Pintauro a household name. But during the show’s later years, when he was a teenager, the actor says, producers “didn’t really know what to do with me.”

RELATED: The cast of Who is the boss?: Where are they now?

Though he was undecided, Pintauro says his sexuality was obvious to others. “They didn’t feel like my character dating a girl was believable,” he says. So he was stuck with banal storylines like accidentally scratching a car. “I didn’t understand why,” says Pintauro, who thought, “They don’t want me here.” (Pintauro makes it clear that the feeling didn’t stem from his costars, including Light, Danza, and Alyssa Milano, who were all “amazing,” he says.)

At the same time, he was struggling socially at his LA school. “I just wanted to be a normal guy,” says Pintauro, who went to class in the mornings before going on set. When fellow students realized he wouldn’t live up to a celebrity vibe, they ignored him. “I had no friends,” he says. “So you have two examples where I just didn’t feel wanted, and that stuck with me.”

When Boss Pintauro dropped out in 1992, threw himself into schoolwork, and attended Stanford University, where he studied to become a veterinarian. By then, “acting wasn’t in my mind,” he says. But he failed chemistry and switched to the theater program.

Then came the call from the Researcher threatens to reveal his sexuality. Pintauro, who was out for his friends and family by then, gave an interview to keep the story under wraps. “I’m trying to study, and all of a sudden I’m dealing with this,” he says.

DANNY PINTAURO roll out

DANNY PINTAURO roll out

courtesy of the Everett Collection

While he says he was “angry” at first, he calmed down after fans let him know how much he inspired them after the article was published: “I still have a box of letters from people all over the country.”

After college, he moved to New York City but struggled to find work as a theater director. He had exhausted much of his savings as a child star by paying for Stanford, so he found jobs as an actor in plays or as a watchman. He also fell in with a bad crowd, partied in clubs, and started taking drugs. “I was lost,” he says. “A year goes by and I’m on a lot of crystal meth.” During a sexual encounter while high on drugs, he contracted HIV.

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

Unfortunately, “auditions were few and far between,” he says. Another ego blow: He was a punchline in a 2003 episode of Will and grace. When his rep contacted the show to give Pintauro a performance, they turned him down. “I said, ‘Well, if you don’t invite me, I’ll buy my way.'”

He bid for and won a walk-on roll at a charity auction. But after what he calls “walking around for months” of the show, he decided against filming, he says. “It brought back all that trauma of not feeling wanted.” He took it as a sign from the universe to move on with show business.

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

The pair settled in Austin, where Pintauro trained as a veterinary technician. They weren’t rich – “We always get by,” he says – but they were happy. “I’ve certainly 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 upset the balance.” Still, after seeing the Star Trek: Discovery kiss, Pintauro couldn’t get acting out of his head.

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

Milano, his friend and former costar, is thrilled to be making a comeback. “I’m very proud of Dan,” she says. “Not just because he followed his lifelong dream, but even more so because he is a good person and remains true to who he is despite the hardships he faces.”

The two can share the screen again on the arrival of Amazon Freevee Who is the boss? sequel series, which will focus on the character of Danza and his daughter Samantha (Milano). Asked if he will appear, Pintauro is reluctant. “I’ve been involved in some conversations,” he says. But he’s also eager to prove he’s not just the kid from the sitcom: “I can play all sorts of roles.”

Pintauro, who recently moved to LA with Tabares, is at peace with the idea that things aren’t going well, but he’s confident that they will. “I feel it in my gut,” he adds.

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A rural Christmas harmony premieres on Lifetime November 18.

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