Eric Braeden, who plays daytime soap opera icon Victor Newman in The Young and The Restless, told The Daily Beast that he and the rest of the cast were “really devastated” over the death of co-star Kristoff St. John.
“We worked together for nearly 30 years. He was a wonderful actor, great to work with, bright and empathic,” Braeden told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview. “But he carried so many things in his heart and soul, especially after the terrible death of his son. I don’t think he ever got over it, and I don’t think he ever fully dealt with it. He tried to. Publicly he had a good demeanor and a good life. But I think the pain was deep: very, very deep. And I think it was too much to live with.”
Of the rest of the Y&R cast, Braeden said, “They are devastated, really devastated. Kristoff was more than a nice guy. People loved him. He was a fundamentally nice man, and always there for people. He was just a man with soul. This will have a deep effect on all of us. The more you think about it, the sadder you become, the more you realize the effect he had on other people.”
St. John, 52, was found dead at his San Fernando Valley home on Sunday. TMZ reported that “alcohol might have played a role.” There were no signs of foul play. The website later reported that St. John had been released from UCLA Medical Center within the last few days, having checked himself in in January for depression issues.
Julian, St. John’s son with ex-wife Mia St. John, committed suicide in 2014. Around the third anniversary of his son’s death in 2017, St. John had reportedly threatened to commit suicide.
In response to St. John’s death, Mia posted a now-deleted message claiming the facility that had treated their son—and against which the couple later filed a civil lawsuit claiming negligence, eventually reaching an out of court settlement—had “killed” both her son and husband.
St. John had a second ex-wife, Allana Nadal, and two daughters, Paris and Lola. He was also recently engaged to model Kseniya Mikhaleva, who posted an Instagram message asking, “How did it happen ???”
“He was such a vital, strong character, and obviously haunted by demons,” Braeden told The Daily Beast. “But he was so full of humor and he was such a good man. In lonely moments when you’re all by yourself, what goes through your head? Who knows?”
St. John’s last tweet, posted on Jan. 21, was a retweet of another Twitter user: “Grieving the loss of a child is a process. It begins on the day your child passes, and ends the day the parent joins them.”
Doug Davidson, another much-loved show veteran who played Paul Williams until recently (with many fans wanting him to return to the show), told The Daily Beast: “I don’t have much to add that doesn’t feel trite. He was someone I could trust with anything and he was an incredibly sensitive person, so the pain he endured was unimaginable. It breaks my heart. I know his friends and family did all they could to aid him in his recovery from grief. He’s in God’s embrace now and in the company of his son. That gives some solace to those he left behind.”
On screen, as fans of The Young and the Restless know, St. John had recently returned to the screen after a period of absence as handsome, loving and fiercely protective patriarch Neil Winters, the head of one of the most significant and long-standing African-American families in daytime drama.
With his daughter Lily (Christel Khalil) in jail, he was furious to discover that his son-in-law Cane (Daniel Goddard) had canoodled with Victoria Newman (Amelia Heinle). He was one of the cast members who took part in a trail for CBS’ Super Bowl coverage.
Braeden told The Daily Beast: “He was one of the few people I trusted. What a great guy to have around in scenes on the set. He always bought a smile. We had lot of jokes. He was warm-hearted, funny. You could bullshit with him about all kinds of things. I had more laughs with him and Dougie (Doug) Davidson and Jeanne Cooper (Katherine Chancellor) than anyone. A lot of people you work with you couldn’t care less about, but in this case it has hit us all very deeply I think.”
Indeed, Y&R stars, past and present took to social media to pay tribute to St. John, including Braeden himself.
Daniel Goddard (Cane), Davidson, and Bryton James (Devon Hamilton), were all particularly close friends of St. John’s, said Braeden, and—like Braeden and the rest of the cast—had reached out to support him after Julian’s death in their own ways.
“The funny thing is in a situation like that although you’re close to someone you don’t want to bring up that pain. I think people make a mistake not doing that,” said Braeden. “You don’t want to tread on something so dreadfully private. But one really should try to, one should try to talk about it. It’s a kind of respect that is not warranted. But it’s difficult on all sides. We all tried to help in one way or another. And he was in great pain, let me put it that way.”
When St. John returned to work after Julian’s death, Braeden recalled, “You talk about everything, but not that. You don’t want to reopen that wound. Most people don’t know how to deal with that kind of deep tragedy. You don’t want to even imagine it. You don’t want to imagine losing a son. How do you deal with that? What do you say?”
Braeden recalled attending the memorial service for Julian, and watching St. John deliver a eulogy to his son. “That was…yeah…” Braden said, his voice choking with emotion. (Braeden has spoken in the past to The Daily Beast about the love he has for his own son, the film director Christian Gudegast). “That was just a painful thing to watch. Those of us who have children ourselves, sons, can empathize, with a father in those shoes. It was almost unbearable. It was just…utterly painful to watch a devastated man.”
Braeden said, “This morning I sat in my car. It was raining outside. I read some of the tweets so many people expressing their condolences. There were tears in my eyes.”
CBS did not respond to specific questions sent by The Daily Beast relating to St. John's health and work.
In a statement, CBS Television Network and Sony Pictures Television (the studio that produces Y&R), said, “The news of Kristoff St. John’s passing is heartbreaking. He was a very talented actor and an even better person. For those of us who were fortunate enough to work with him on The Young and the Restless for the last 27 years, he was a beloved friend whose smile and infectious laugh made every day on set a joy and made audiences love him.
“On behalf of the Y&R cast and crew, CBS and Sony Pictures Television, we offer our heartfelt sympathy to his family and loved ones, especially his two daughters, Paris and Lola.”
Fans of the show had noticed that St. John’s stints in Y&R had become sporadic in recent times.
About whether that was depression-related, Braeden said it was “a combination of things, but I don’t want to bullshit you. There had been attempts to minimize the influence of characters who had made the show. Kristoff wasn’t on screen for long periods of time. I wasn’t. Dougie Davidson’s character disappeared. Eileen Davidson left the show.”
Braeden will not mention “that person,” as he calls him by name, but he is referring to Mal Young, the show’s former executive producer and head writer, who left the show in December.
So, St. John was happy to be back on screen? this reporter asked.
“Of course,” said Braeden. “It was what he loved doing. He loved acting. He loved his job.”
Braeden had not worked with St. John directly in recent weeks, but “some of the cast who had said he was a little bit more withdrawn and depressed than usual.”
The ruthless pace of filming daytime soap operas, said Braeden, can make finding time for deeper conversations difficult with fellow actors. “Daytime actors work harder than any other actor in any other medium,” said Braeden. “You don’t have too much time to talk to someone. You just get glimpses of them. You have to perform. You can’t indulge feelings and pain. That’s our medium.”
Generally, St. John “was just one of the good guys,” he said, “ready for a laugh, with a great sense of humor. Boy, was he a great actor: always there, always ready. The finished product makes it look so easy, but it’s had work, and that hard work can in some ways be a relief for people to concentrate on away from whatever is bothering them.”
Braeden recalled that St. John would greet him with a “’Hey brother’ and a hug. ‘How’s everything going?’
“He was one of those people who has gone through things, and knows what it’s like for others going through things. There was a shared, unspoken emotional bond. Neither of you need to explain anything. You just understand the underlying pain. He knew. He understood. He’d gone to hell and back.
“When you work with certain actors you just know the depth of their pain and their experiences. They have more life experiences than you want anyone to have. You just know it. You sense it. He was one of those actors. There are certain unspoken moments when you work with an actor in scenes when you realize they get it because they have experienced it.
“When you look at the big screen, Meryl Streep is one of those people. You just feel it. There’s a depth to their feelings. Kristoff was one of those actors. He was an absolute joy to work with because he was so damn real. He was an instinctive actor and just a good human being, with an enormous amount of caring in his soul for others. Good acting is about empathy. Actors without empathy are not good actors.”
On how the show will handle the death of St. John on screen, Braeden said, “it should be a hell of a tribute.” Braeden said the show was “now in the hands of a good head writer (Josh Griffith) and executive producer (Anthony Morina)." “Tony worked with Kristoff before and knew him longer than any of us. I have a feeling that Neil’s story will be in good hands.”
“I’m just very sad,” Braeden said quietly. “He was a very good man. He would come to our Christmas parties and always ask about my son and my family.” Braeden paused again, his voice breaking. “Kristoff was just a nice guy, and that doesn’t describe him adequately. He was fundamentally a nice, decent man, and this saddens us all deeply.”