Actor Eric Braeden's Life Through The Years

Born Hans-Jörg Gudegast, Eric Braeden, who plays the villainous character Victor Newman in the CBS series "The Young and the Restless," has become an essential part of American daytime television. His role as Victor Newman has earned him multiple Emmy nominations, and in 1998 he won the award for Outstanding Actor in a Daytime Drama Series. According to his IMDb profile, Braeden has acted in a total of 93 projects that include both movies and TV series. He also served as an executive producer for the 2008 film "The Man Who Came Back," in which he also played protagonist Reese Paxton. 

Clearly, show business has worked out rather well for him. But had he not found this line of work? "I'd be helping people in some way; perhaps I'd be in medicine," he once told Backstage. "There is an essential part of Christianity — helping the poor — that has always inspired me: the priests and pastors who are the true believers who go into dangerous parts of the world to do good."

While many daytime TV fans are familiar with his work on the small screen, there is much more to the veteran soap opera star's story. This is actor Eric Braeden's life through the years.

He was born in a war-stricken Germany

Born in April 1941 in Kiel, Germany, Eric Braeden's childhood was far from idyllic. He arrived in the middle of World War II, and as he told Parade, he was delivered in the basement of a hospital that would soon be reduced to rubble. The actor said, "The hospital I was born in was destroyed the day after my birth." The war ended when he was four, but his fight for life was just about to begin, as fate had some more tragic events in store for him.

He was just 12 when his father died. Braeden, left with his mother and three brothers, helped support his struggling family financially by working on farms. However, despite having a childhood so tough, he remains thankful for his past. During an interview with Fifteen Minutes With, Braeden noted, "I am very grateful to my childhood in many ways, although, to be frank with you, I can do without the poverty. Sometimes people romanticize poverty. [...] It's the worst."

He moved to the U.S. in 1959

Following his high school graduation, Eric Braeden came to the United States in 1959. After immigrating to America, Braeden spent some time assisting his cousin in a medical lab at the University of Texas campus in Galveston. As for what he did while he was working with his cousin? "I dissected cadavers at the John Sealy Hospital," he recalled to NPR. As Backstage noted, he also tried his hand working on a ranch and in a lumber mill. 

While pursuing higher studies in Missoula at the University of Montana, Braeden and his friend Bob McKinnon decided to do something no one had ever done before: boat the entirety of the Salmon River in Idaho. What's more, they captured the whole adventure on film. "I took that river trip [down the Salmon River] in Idaho with a promise that we would make a documentary film and with that film we would come to California," he told NPR. They did indeed travel to Los Angeles, and Braeden eventually established a career as an actor.

He has been acting since the early 1960s

Still known as Hans-Jörg Gudegast, Eric Braeden appeared in several movies and shows from the 1960s. These projects included "Combat!," "Morituri," "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," and "Twelve O'Clock High." However, what actually helped him rise to fame was playing the antagonist, German Hauptmann Hans Dietrich, in "The Rat Patrol," a WWII drama.

As Braeden shared in a Soap Opera Digest interview, he reluctantly decided to change his name after feeling like it limited his acting opportunities. "My wife knew how frustrated I'd always been about often playing bad guys — initially Nazis, and then bad guys," he said. Braeden shared that he ultimately made the switch before he landed the lead in "Colossus: The Forbin Project" and after the head of Universal at the time told him, "No one with a German name will star in an American picture." Per his CBS bio, his stage surname is based on Bredenbek, the name of the town where he grew up. "Changing my name was one of the most painful decisions I've ever made, so I needed to choose a name that I could still identify with," he said.

In the '70s, he appeared in everything from "Escape from the Planet of the Apes" to "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo," "The Six Million Dollar Man" to "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Kojak" to "Gunsmoke." In 1980, his career took yet another turn when he started playing Victor Newman in "The Young and the Restless." A soap opera star was born.

He was an excellent athlete

One thing we know for sure is that Eric Braeden would have excelled as an athlete if he hadn't gotten into show biz. According to his CBS bio, while pursuing his studies in high school, Braeden's team won the National German Youth Championship in Track and Field, and he ended up at the University of Montana on a sports scholarship. His CBS bio also notes that he played for the American soccer club Macabee Los Angeles and helped the team win the 1973 U.S. National Soccer Championship.

Braeden is also an avid boxer. While speaking to a writer from Fifteen Minutes With, he recalled how he once shadowboxed with ring legend Muhammad Ali inside an elevator. As Braeden put it, "It was a bucket list moment for me." In the same interview, when asked about his love for tennis, Braeden revealed that he has played in a copious amount of celebrity tournaments that gave him the chance to play with and against star athletes like Nadia Comaneci, John McEnroe, and Goran Ivanišević.

He married his college sweetheart in 1966

Unlike Victor Newman, Eric Braeden has been married to the same woman for several decades. Braeden married his college sweetheart, fellow actor Dale Suzanne Russell, in October 1966, according to AmoMama. According to her IMDb page, she played a chauffeur in the Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen movie "Holiday in the Sun." The pair welcomed their only child, Christian Gudegast, in 1970. 

Like his parents, Christian has gotten into show business. Per his IMDb, he's found success as a writer, director, and producer. Understandably, his father is rather proud. When Christian's 2018 film "Den of Thieves" premiered, Braeden was there with bells on and posted about the big moment on Facebook. Alongside a picture of the two together on the red carpet, the soap star wrote, "Hell of a tension packed film."

Christian has three daughters. From time to time, Braeden will post about his grandkids, whether it be to celebrate his eldest becoming an equestrian, show off his second-eldest granddaughter's art skills, or share a sweet snap of all three together.

He wasn't totally sure about his Titanic role

On a February 2017 episode of "The Talk" (via, Eric Braeden revealed that he was reluctant about playing American businessman John Jacob Astor in the 1997 epic "Titanic." Not only was he on the fence about the way the real-life person had been woven into the film's story, but he was a bit apprehensive about working with director James Cameron, noting that he'd heard from multiple people that the award-winning filmmaker could be demanding, to say the least. Fortunately, he did not heed these warnings. "Long story short, James Cameron couldn't have been more charming, was a big fan of 'Colossus,' and again, it's a question of respect, and that's why I stayed," Braeden told the Archive of American Television.  

The soap star's confidence never waned. Even when, as The Washington Post reported at the time, there were fears surrounding the movie's fate, Braeden remained confident. As he recounted to TV Insider in 2017, "At the time there was a lot of talk and a lot of fear that Titanic was going to be a financial disaster that would sink the studio, but I was certain it would be a success, not because of the epic nature of it and the special effects, which were indeed wonderful, but because it was a very expensive soap opera!" And what a success it was: "Titanic" made over $1.8 billion worldwide during its original release. 

Eric Braeden released an autobiography in 2017

In November 2017, at the age of 76, Eric Braeden came out with his memoir, "I'll Be Damned: How My Young and Restless Life Led Me to America's #1 Daytime Drama." Published by HarperCollins, the book covers everything from his birth in Kiel and his journey to the United States to his decades-long career in show business and him being a devoted humanitarian.

While promoting the book in a 2017 interview with TV Insider, Braeden talked about one of the book's particularly serious revelations: his father was a part of the Nazi party. He told the outlet, "I knew my father, who was the mayor of our town, was an honest, decent man and there was never a hint of anti-Semitism in our home. Like most German professionals and government officials of the time, he joined the Nazi Party. It was what one did. But he was not a part of the atrocities." Braeden only remembers his father as a paternal figure, and he did not learn about the Holocaust or what the Nazi Party did until he was around 20 years old. "[T]he sudden knowledge of what his generation had done left me full of shame and rage," he said. 

He doesn't plan on retiring soon

Those who have watched "The Young and the Restless" already are well aware of the character traits possessed by Victor Newman, arguably one of the most complicated characters shown on TV. However, not many people know that the character was supposed to be killed off after eight to twelve weeks of runtime. When Braeden's performance as an antagonist earned the show its nationwide audience, the show's producer, William Joseph Bell, offered him the position of a regular cast member, per Fifteen Minutes With. And the rest is soap opera history. To this day, the actor remains one of the main reasons behind fans being drawn back to the show, year after year after year.

As "Y&R" looks forward to celebrating its 50 years of being on air in March 2023, it seems that Braeden is not retiring from the show anytime soon. In a 2021 interview with People, he noted, "I love my life. I love my colleagues. I love my family and friends. So do I see myself retiring anytime soon? Hell no! My life has been enriched by having been introduced to so many things." He added, "I learned from early on, what you do in the last mile is what you are judged by. So, I've got to keep on plugging, keep on fighting, keep on working and never give up."