How Eight Is Enough Star Willie Aames Found True Love with a Former Fan: 'It Was Meant To Be'

Willie Aames Shares Real-Life Fairytale Love Story. Credit: Winnie Hung and Willie Aames Kevin Clark

Kevin Clark

Willie Aames always had a feeling there was more to life than fame and fortune.

In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, the former teen heartthrob and Eight Is Enough star, 62, opened up about finding true love with his now wife, Winnie Hung — a former fan and pen pal for over three decades — and how they managed to turn their love story into a movie with Hallmark's Love in the Limelight.

To begin, it all started with a letter.

"It's my favorite story in the whole wide universe," Aames, who is best known for playing Tommy Bradford in the 1970s television series Eight Is Enough and Buddy Lembeck on the 1980s sitcom Charles in Charge, said. "Winnie had started sending me letters when she was just a kid. I used to receive thousands of letters a week. I used to pick letters out of the bag and I would read a couple of them and they'd always put their phone number there. It was always like, 'Please call me sometime if you ever need a friend.' And I was thinking, 'These poor girls. They're never going to get a phone call from somebody.' So I thought, 'I'm going to do it. I'm going to call.' "

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After pulling out a letter, Aames picked up the phone. "I was like, 'Hi, is this the Hung residence?' And she's like, 'Yes.' And I said, 'Hi, this is Willie Aames calling from Universal Studios.' She hung up.

"I called back and she was like, 'It can't be you,'" he recalled. "We started chatting and became pen pals for 30 years. We never met, but chatted on the phone a few times. We'd catch up, lose track, catch up, and lose track."


Universal Television/Everett

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After years of corresponding, the duo lost touch for a brief period of time — during which Aames battled addiction and became homeless at one point.

"When I started my life over at 48, I had to learn everything new again," said Aames, who began working as a cruise director on Oceana at the time. "I had to learn who I was again. I had to get over all of the past mistakes."

The timing was perfect when Aames heard from Hung, now 50, again via social media. So the duo decided to finally meet during a cruise stop in Vancouver.

Willie Aames Shares Real-Life Fairytale Love Story. Credit: Winnie Hung and Willie Aames Kevin Clark

Winnie Hung and Willie Aames

"That afternoon, I took one look at her and I knew," Aames said of their first interaction. "There's no getting around it. That afternoon, I went and I bought Winnie a little Pandora charm, that says 'Fairytale' on it. That was one of the things that I told her because she was so dead set against going out with me that I said, 'Don't miss out on your own real-life fairy tale.' "

"I feel like everything worked out timing-wise, the way it was supposed to be," said Hung, an actress and producer. "So by the time we actually met in person, I already trusted him as a human being."

"I had literally sort of healed into something new," added Aames, who was previously married to Vicki Weatherman in 1979 and Maylo McCaslin in 1986. "Had I not gone through the ups and downs in my life that I did, I would not have been the right man for Winnie."

After a dreamy first meeting, Aames was set to travel to France for work, but couldn't get Hung out of his mind.

"I flew back up to Canada, and as I came through immigration, she was standing there, and I walked up to her, and I said, 'I'm going to marry you.' "

Willie Aames Shares Real-Life Fairytale Love Story. Credit: Winnie Hung and Willie Aames Kevin Clark

Winnie Hung and Willie Aames

Ten months later, and with the approval of Hung's family, the duo married in 2014.

"I never once, ever in a million years thought he would the one," said Hung, who waited all her life for the perfect man. "It was such an innocent writing back and forth. I never ever once thought it was even a possibility."

"It's so funny, we still sit across the table from each other and look at each other and go, 'I can't believe it's you. You're the one.'"

Their story is so remarkable that the couple decided to write and produce a movie loosely based on their journey.

The Hallmark film, Love in the Limelight — which stars Alexa and Carlos PenaVega — tells the story of pen pals Nick and Summer, who is reluctant for her relationship with him to go public when the former boy band singer comes to town for a comeback concert.

Willie Aames Shares Real-Life Fairytale Love Story. Credit: Winnie Hung and Willie Aames Kevin Clark

Winnie Hung and Willie Aames

"We are really grateful to everyone at Hallmark for giving us an opportunity to tell a story that was inspired by our story," said Aames. "Obviously they can't travel around the world on ships and that sort of thing, but I will say if there's anything that I hope readers and viewers get, it's that there are so many moments throughout that movie that actually happened. We really are grateful for them to be able to tell a version of our story."

Now, the happy couple continues to live out their happily ever after!

"I've never been happier," said Aames, who is now the CEO of his own production company. "I've never felt better about life, and opportunity, and I don't know what I'd do without Winnie. It was meant to be. Like I said, I met her when I had learned enough in my life to not be seeking after something, so the most natural thing happened."

"It's never too late to find love," said Hung.

Love in the Limelight premieres Saturday at 8 p.m. EST on Hallmark Channel.