Soap Opera Stars You May Not Know Are Dead

This article includes mention of suicide.

One of the defining features of soap operas is just how many characters there are on each and every show. On every soap, people have multiple marriages, multiple children, lots of affairs, and tons of feuds. These convoluted plots require an extensive stable of actors to handle that many parts, and sometimes, when an actor leaves the show, a different star takes over to play the same part. It can be confusing, in other words, to keep track of the off-screen lives of soap stars while you're also following their on-screen exploits. 

Just because a soap character dies onscreen doesn't mean the character (or actor!) won't be back. People often reappear as ghosts or other supernatural beings; Peter Reckell, who played Bo Brady on "Days of Our Lives" for decades before leaving so he could move to New Zealand, for example, returned to Salem as an angel. Sometimes, though, characters do leave their soaps because their stars have indeed passed away. Read on for a look at some soap opera stars you might not realize are dead.

Kristoff St. John

Few actors in daytime have been as recognized by the industry as Kristoff St. John, the man who originated the role of Neil Winters on "The Young and the Restless" in 1991. He went on to receive numerous Daytime Emmy nominations for his performance, picking up two wins, and he even collected a whopping ten NAACP Image Awards. Neil was a long-running character on the soap, one that Soaps In Depth writes went through numerous relationships, had various children, and enjoyed a long career that stretched from cosmetics worker to CEO of the show's fabled Chancellor Industries.

St. John faced a personal tragedy in 2014 when his son Julian died by suicide, according to ET. The outlet reported the following year that St. John's family was suing the psychiatric facility where his son had been staying, alleging that he hadn't been checked for about an hour by the time he was found dead. The tragedy hit St. John hard; a few months after he lost his son, he tweeted, "In my fictional life #YR I am living with extreme drama and wreckage. In my personal life I am walking through hell." He wound up taking time away from the show for his own mental health, according to Entertainment Weekly.

The soap superstar passed away himself in 2019; per USA Today, the autopsy revealed that his death was due to heart disease.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Josh Ryan Evans

When "Passions" premiered in 1999, audiences were introduced to a classic soap-opera plot device: a generations-old feud, in this case between the Cranes and the Lopez-Fitzgeralds (per TV Guide). However, the show included elements not often seen on daytime television; the show's fictional town of Harmony was populated by witches, ghosts, and even an evil martini-drinking doll named Timmy, easily the show's most iconic character. Timmy was played by Josh Ryan Evans, an actor with achondroplasia, a bone growth disorder that leads to dwarfism. His stature made him the perfect size to play the living doll. Though Timmy was his most famous role, Evans was also known for playing the child version of the Grinch in the Jim Carrey adaptation of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

Timmy, the character, died on "Passions" on August 5, 2002. According to Soaps, the show planned to have Evans continue to appear on the show as an angelic version of the doll, but they were unable to proceed with that storyline, because Evans coincidentally passed away on the same day that his character's death aired on TV. The soap star had a congenital heart problem, and he unfortunately died while undergoing surgery to correct the condition.

While "Passions" received poor critical reviews at first, it went on to become a cult classic. One BuzzFeed article about the show, for example, describes it as "the worst-slash-best soap opera you ever watched," still memorable thanks in large part to Evans' work.

James Mitchell

James Mitchell played Palmer Cortlandt on "All My Children" for several decades, starting in 1979. As the head of one of the show's central families, they weren't all his children, but a lot of them sure were; according to a fan site called The Pine Valley Bulletin, the character was married a whopping seven times and had many offspring. Soaps notes that the character was involved in dramatic plots like murders, divorces, secret children, and even stolen Nazi paintings... par for the course on a soap opera! "Theater was my big dream then, but my family thought it was a ridiculous waste of time," the actor recalled to the Turlock Journal. He said his drama teacher helped him get up the nerve to insist on acting as a career path, and the rest was daytime television history.

The "All My Children" vet passed away in 2010 from what The Hollywood Reporter called "chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, complicated by pneumonia." He was 89 years old. 

Mitchell's co-star Susan Lucci, who played iconic villainess Erica Kane, remembered her co-star in a tribute to Soap Central. "He was such a special person. He lit up the room with his warmth, thoughtfulness and charm. He was truly authentic," she said. After his passing, the characters on "All My Children" gathered to memorialize the iconic patriarch; Mitchell had previously filmed some special relevant scenes (ahead of the show's 40th anniversary), and those were included in the tribute (via Soap Central).

Kevin Dobson

"Knots Landing" premiered in 1979 as a primetime spin-off to ultra-successful soap "Dallas." The show followed the suburban California exploits of Gary Ewing, brother of J.R. Ewing, the iconic "Dallas" villain. Kevin Dobson, then best known for playing Bobby Crocker on "Kojak," joined the "Knots Landing" cast in 1983 as a new character named "Mack" MacKenzie. The character was a prosecutor (via TVLine), and he became part of a couple with Karen Fairgate, one of the soap's original characters.

Years later, Dobson joined the cast of another soap, "Days of Our Lives," playing a recast Mickey Horton for the character's final arc after the originating actor John Clarke (and subsequent replacements) left the series.

Dobson passed away in 2020. The United Veterans Council of San Joaquin County announced his death on Facebook, noting that he died from "medical complications" that were revealed by his obituary in The Hollywood Reporter to have been the result of an autoimmune deficiency. "Cagney & Lacey" star Sharon Gless, who appeared on an episode of "Kojak" with Dobson, tweeted, "I am very sad. Kevin Dobson passed away yesterday. We worked together years ago and he was an amazing man. I wish I had been given time to say goodbye. Godspeed Kevin."

Rhonda Stubbins White

Before she joined "Days of Our Lives," Rhonda Stubbins White appeared on a number of iconic shows in the '90s, including "ER," "Touched By An Angel," and "NYPD Blue." The character actor moved into Salem in 2000, playing the role of Lady Vi. Lady Vi owned a soul food restaurant, giving her an insight into the dramatic goings-on around town. After leaving "Days," White went on to star in a TV movie version of "Their Eyes Were Watching God," and in 2020, she joined the cast of Tyler Perry's religious drama "Ruthless," where she played Agnes alongside fellow "Days" vet Matt Cedeño.

White passed away in 2021, at only 60 years old, from cancer. A friend announced her death in a comment on her last Facebook post (a music video of Jon Batiste's "Freedom"), writing in part, "She was an amazingly talented woman, full of positivity and energy, and grounded by her faith. We were all fortunate to have known her and shared her short time on this earth." After the news broke online, a manager confirmed it to People.

The Twitter account for "Ruthless" memorialized the star online, sharing, "She has crafted a nearly 30-year legacy in television and film, and we are grateful to have had such an incredibly talented individual and positive light be a part of the Ruthless family."

June Brown

"EastEnders" is a British soap that follows the exploits of a group of working-class residents of Albert Square, in (where else?) the East End of London. One of the earliest characters on the show was Dot Cotton, the mother of notorious criminal Nick Cotton; Dot quickly became a fan-favorite as viewers fell in love with her no-nonsense chain-smoking ways. Though June Brown played Dot for decades starting with the character's inception in 1985, the character was written out of the show in 2020; as Heart noted, Dot left for an extended trip to Ireland, Brown's final lines on the show delivered via voicemail.

Brown, who picked up a prestigious BAFTA nomination in 2009 for her work on "EastEnders," passed away two years after her character left the soap. Though no cause of death was made public, Variety reported that her family announced she died at home, "very peacefully." Nadine Dorries, the U.K.'s Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, tweeted in recognition of the soap star. "There was nobody quite like June Brown," she wrote. "She captured the zeitgeist of British culture like no other in her many years on our screens. Today we've lost a true national treasure but my goodness what a life she has led."

After she passed, a mural of the soap icon was put up in East London, near where her fictional character would have lived for decades. 

Ray MacDonnell

Soap operas have struggled in the age of streaming; with viewers having more choices than ever, getting audiences to follow along on a show that airs every single day became harder and harder. "All My Children" was canceled in 2011 before being briefly revived online several years later, but the show has now gone to the big network television graveyard in the sky. Fans are left with just their memories of Pine Valley, Pennsylvania, the fictional Philly suburb where the show took place. Many of those memories came about thanks in large part to Ray MacDonnell's character Dr. Joe Martin, patriarch of the show's legendary Martin family. MacDonnell played the part for more than four decades, and so legendary was his performance as the emotional core of the show that he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Daytime Emmys in 2004.

MacDonnell passed away in 2021 at age 93 from what Deadline reported were natural causes. Considering the man's towering legacy on daytime television, many of his co-stars paid tribute to him online. Susan Lucci, perhaps the most famous "AMC" alum for her role as the devious Erica Kane, wrote, "He was truly our AMC patriarch—and filled our studio with warmth and professionalism—and his delicious sense of humor—there were times during scenes that I couldn't dare make eye contact with him—just a look from his eyes with that ever-present gleam—would dissolve us into peals of laughter."

Jossara Jinaro

Jossara Jinaro joined the cast of "Passions" as Rae; her character soon fell in love with Simone Russell, played by Cathy Jeneen Doe (via Soaps). The relationship sparked a significant coming-out storyline on the show at a time when lesbian representation on television was sorely lacking. According to The Bay Area Reporter, the characters' sexuality was revealed in a sequence that saw not just two women in bed together, but two women kissing, which was a step further than most daytime soaps were willing to go at the time. Unfortunately, the relationship was not to last; after a subplot involving Rae potentially having been paid to seduce Simone, Rae was killed by a mysterious murderer known on the show as The Blackmailer.

Jinaro went on to act in "Doctor Who" and Hulu's teen soap "East Los High." She passed away in 2022; a post shared by her husband on Facebook revealed that she died from cancer. "Jossara was an amazing wife, mother, artist, and friend. She had the most beautiful, kind soul and wouldn't take no for an answer," he said. "... She is now resting in peace and will be remembered forever."

Upon learning of her passing, director Rob Zombie shared on Instagram, "So sad to hear about the death of Jossara Jinaro. As you will remember she played the maid of the Kahiki Palms motel in 'The Devil's Rejects.' It was a small role but she was terrific."

Matthew Cowles

Matthew Cowles was an actor and playwright best known for his work on "All My Children." Across many years of the iconic soap, he played a villainous character named Billy Clyde Tuggle, who, according to Soaps, was originally introduced as the pimp behind a prostitution ring that was plaguing the town of Pine Valley. The character dealt with a number of requisite soap-opera necessities like secret paternities, love triangles, hidden identities, and more. Cowles even returned to the show after it was cancelled and then moved online, in what TV Insider outlined as a failed attempt to make streaming the primary destination for soaps that had formerly been on network television.

Cowles died in 2014; his obituary in The Hollywood Reporter revealed that he passed from congestive heart failure. He was survived by his wife, Christine Baranski, herself an actor who is best known for roles on shows like "The Good Wife" and "The Good Fight" and in films such as "Mamma Mia" and its sequel. A few years after Cowles died, Baranski opened up about how difficult the process of grieving was for her in an interview with Parade. "The death of a loved one is not only deeply sad but also very disorienting," she said. "When you've had a 30-year marriage and sat across from this person every morning having coffee, it's so strange. Someone is there and then suddenly they're not there to talk to ever again.

Jeanne Cooper

While some soap stars come and go, their characters cast and recast, occasionally an actor sticks with their creation for a lifetime, crafting a career out of portraying the same person on television day in and day out for decades. Such was the case with Jeanne Cooper, the woman behind the legendary soap character Katherine Chancellor on "The Young and the Restless." 

Katherine was a matriarch known for her decades-long feud with a character named Jill, which CBS proudly called the longest-running feud in daytime television history. She even had a facelift done on television in the '80s — character and star going under the knife at the same time — decades before shows like "The Swan" or "Extreme Makeover" would show plastic surgery on TV to millions. "It opened up reconstructive surgery for so many people, youngsters getting things done. ... That was an incredible experience in my life," Cooper told The Washington Post.

Cooper finally left the show in 2013, and as her character disappeared from the world, so too did the actor; she passed away a mere five days after her final appearance. According to her obituary in the Los Angeles Times, the soap star had been experiencing an "undisclosed illness," and she died in her sleep. "These hallowed halls will never be the same," tweeted Joshua Morrow, who plays Nick Newman on "Y&R," as the news of Cooper's passing spread around the internet.

Joseph Campanella

While many soap actors become beloved by the fans thanks to their roles on a daytime television show, Joseph Campanella had the honor of playing not one but two iconic soap opera characters in addition to smaller roles on soaps like "Guiding Light" and "Melrose Place." On "Days of Our Lives" from 1987 to 1992, he played Harper Devereaux, villainous father of Jack. The character started as a senator and became a serial killer, claiming several victims in Salem before he was finally stopped. After 113 "Days" episodes, Campanella moved on to "The Bold and the Beautiful," where he played Jonathan Young for 111 episodes between 1996 and 2005. Jonathan was an attorney to the fashionable Forrester family, involved in numerous scurrilous goings-on.

Campanella passed away in 2018 from natural causes, per The Hollywood Reporter. "He died peacefully with his loving wife beside him after a full 93 years of life, and we celebrate him as an artist whose professionalism and talent profoundly influenced so many with whom he worked..." his family said in a statement. He was also remembered by his many co-stars online, including Matthew Ashford, who played Jack Devereaux on "Days" for many years. "He was my tv dad- Harper Devereaux- wicked and sly as a character- but a loving kind actor and a man," he tweeted.

Joseph Mascolo

Few villains in all of daytime television are as iconic as Stefano DiMera, the head of the legendary DiMera crime family on "Days of Our Lives." Throughout the reign of terror of the man known as "The Phoenix" (because of how often he came back from the dead), Stefano was involved in more murderous plots, conniving relationships, secret children, kidnappings, and what Soaps called "raising private mercenary armies, and conducting guerrilla warfare in Third World countries" than any fan could hope to keep track of. And unlike a lot of soap characters, which change hands as actors come and go, Stefano was only ever played by Joseph Mascolo, a man whose arched eyebrow could send chills down the spine of any viewer.

Mascolo unfortunately passed away at age 87 in 2016 after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's (per CNN), and his "Days" co-stars took to Twitter to memorialize a man who cast a long shadow over Salem. "I always had a sense of awe to work with Joe. He will be greatly missed," wrote Alison Sweeney, best known as Sami Brady on the long-running sudser. "Favorite memory of Joe: being scared for my life when I yelled at him in a scene," recalled Chandler Massey, who played Sami's son Will. Even "Selling Sunset" star Chrishell Stause, who played Jordan Ridgeway on "Days," tweeted, "So sad to hear of his passing. What a great guy. ... It was an honor."

Jerry Douglas

Jerry Douglas played John Abbott, patriarch of the Abbott clan, for more than 30 years on "The Young and the Restless." The character was introduced in 1980 and was originally played by Brett Halsey before Douglas took over two years later, and Douglas stuck with John Abbott and stayed in Genoa City through 2016. Like many veteran soap characters, John Abbott went through it, dealing with secret children, infidelity, scheming rivals, and business mergers; he even killed someone and went to prison for it! The character himself was killed in 2006, but Douglas continued to appear as Abbott's ghost for an additional decade.

Deadline reported that the soap star passed away on November 9, 2021, just three days shy of his 89th birthday. His cause of death was unspecified, but his passing was reportedly due to a "brief illness." Fellow soap actor Jess Walton, who played John Abbott's wife Jill for many years, tweeted in remembrance of her "Y&R" partner. "Rest in peace my dear TV husband Jerry Douglas," she wrote. "Thank you for the laughter all those years." The soap's executive producer, Anthony Morina, told NBC News, "Our show was lucky to have an actor of his caliber join the cast and introduce the audience to the iconic Abbott family."

Kathryn Hays

"As the World Turns" premiered all the way back in 1956, and Kathryn Hays joined the cast as beloved matriarch Kim Hughes years later, originating the role in 1972. "Kim was written as a troublemaker," Hays told We Love Soaps in a wide-ranging interview about her career and character. She noted that the writers of the show often changed characters to fit what actors brought to the role; in her case, that meant softening Kim, who was a homewrecker at first. "She turned into a deeper character, and that was wonderful. I was playing a character who had had a rough patch in her life but she made the choice to be a better person and to not be selfish," she reflected.

Hays stuck with Kim and "As the World Turns" until that world stopped turning, when the show was canceled in 2010. She passed away in April 2022, at the age of 87; Parade reported that the cause of death had not been made public at the time. "There are soap actors and there are soap stars," one fan shared on Twitter as news of her passing broke. "Kathryn Hays was a star in every scene."