“The Young and the Restless” will give veteran character Neil Winters — portrayed by the late Kristoff St. John — a proper sendoff this week.
St. John, who had played the popular father figure on the long-running soap since 1991, died in early February at age 52 of hypertrophic heart disease, according to an autopsy report obtained by Fox News.
The news was devastating to family, friends and fans who called St. John “revolutionary” for helping cement the prominence of major African-American characters in the traditionally white soap opera world.
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“This is just heartbreaking. Kristoff St. John’s character was so revolutionary because he & @victoriarowell represented the only black family on Y&R, the no. 1 soap. Kristoff is appreciated and will be sorely missed,” journalist Jemele Hill tweeted after the news of his death broke.
To pay tribute to St. John’s decades-long work on the show, the CBS soap opera will air a four-episode story arc — from Tuesday to Friday — to mourn the loss of Neil. Friends and family will gather in fictional Genoa City to remember the businessman whose full life included complicated relationships and a battle with alcoholism.
People need “to prepare themselves for a very profoundly emotional journey over those four days, and have lots of boxes of Kleenex right by,” head writer Josh Griffith said. “But in the end, as we knew that Kristoff would want it, it goes from being a passing of him to a celebration of his life.”
Neil’s death is announced in Tuesday’s episode when his son, Devon, discovers his dad isn’t answering his calls. When he walks into Neil’s home, he reportedly calls out, “Wake up, it’s not a party till Neil Winters shows up.” That’s when he discovers his father is gone.
Shemar Moore, star of CBS’ prime-time series “S.W.A.T.,” returns to what fans know as “Y&R” for two episodes as Malcolm Winters, Neil’s brother. Other returning alumni include Christel Khalil and Eileen Davidson, while Stan Shaw, St. John’s longtime friend and co-star in “Roots: The Next Generations,” appears as the reverend at Neil’s funeral.
St. John’s acting career kickstarted at the young age of 8. He made appearances on dozens of TV shows and movies since then but his role on the CBS soap was his longest yet, according to IMDB.
The soap star suffered a “breaking point” in 2017, three years after his 24-year-old son, Julian, died in a California mental health care facility, Entertainment Tonight reported at the time. The death was reported as a suicide and led St. John and his ex-wife Mia to file a wrongful death lawsuit, which was later settled out of court.
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Although St. John suffered personal setbacks and tragedies, he “always made it a point to come to work and not only be the most professional you could be, but to bring a levity and a true joy to the work environment,” said Bryton James, who played Neil’s son, Devon.
The show said it never even considered casting another actor to replace St. John as Neil.
St. John gave the character “his humanity, his joy of life,” Griffith said. And as a “strong African-American character — successful, powerful, passionate — he opened the doors for so many actors. He was just a wonderful human being.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.