Soap Shrink to Thinking Fans: Ways to Cope with Recent Soap Deaths

Thinking Fans on the passing of beloved soap characters:  BL says, “Feelings are feelings, and if someone did something magnificent in their career or touched you emotionally, it should be honored” … while renee says, “I know they’re not physically real, but if we’re blessed they’re emotionally real” … and more. See Comments below. 


By Damon L. Jacobs

This is not an easy time to be a soap fan.  Already we are coping with declining ratings, pre-emptions, time changes, and signs of behind-the-scenes instability.  But this week the Thinking Fans are coping with not one, not two, but three significant creative and artistic losses.  What’s worse, the NAW’s (Non-Addicted-Watchers) in our lives usually have a limited ability to relate to our pain and sorrow.  

Unlike stars of prime time TV shows or movies, soap actors/writers form unique relationships with us viewers.  They are in our homes several times a week, sometimes for decades at a time.  We often go through school and college

Respect your relationship with the person who has died …  Appreciate the values they brought into your life.

watching our favorite character go through similar struggles.  We may enter and exit relationships; we may give birth to children and watch them grow up, all with that comforting surrogate family member entering into our homes during the day.  They come to symbolize a personal sense of history, stability, and comfort in a world which can be unpredictable and harsh.  

So when one or more of these individuals passes from this world, it is important that we acknowledge this a real and valid loss in our own lives.  Many fans grew up watching Irene Dailey portraying the feisty Liz Matthews on Another World, as well as Eileen Herlie as the comforting wise matriarchal figure on All My Children.  The death of these actresses is a considerable loss for so many who shared their living rooms with them during various stages of their lives.  Millions of young adults grew up with the brilliantly twisted turbulence of James E. Reilly’s Passions coming into their homes every day.  The loss of this creator is a devastating one for those who knew and enjoyed his craft.  

How do we deal with these losses, one on top of the other?  The Soap Shrink has some ideas:

1.  Try dropping the words “should” and “normal” from your grieving process.  They don’t help you cope with loss, and usually end up making you feel worse.  

2.  Respect your relationship with the person who has died.  It is easy to undermine our emotional connection to the people we have never personally met.  But these individuals who passed did have an impact on most of us reading this column, and that deserves to be honored.

3.  Appreciate the values they brought into your life.  Loving Irene Dailey as I did means I might not back down quite so easily from an argument.  Respecting James E. Reilly as I did means I might try something a little weird or “outside the lines”  in my daily life.  Channeling their energies helps me to focus on what they brought to my life, not on what I’m missing.  

4.  Understand that NAW’s just may not get why you’re upset.  And that’s okay.  Thanks to Marlena we have a place to come to where we can share common ground and know that we are not going through this alone.  And on that note …

5.  Talk about it! Use the space below to tell us how you have been coping this past week with these deaths, as well as past losses.  I, for one, am still reeling over the shocking death of Benjamin Hendrickson (Hal Munson of As the World Turns) two years ago.  And I know I will never forget the loss of my “surrogate grandfather” MacDonald Carey (Tom Horton, Days of Our Lives).  So please, Thinking Fans, share with us your memories, your pains, your laughter, your tears.


Damon L. Jacobs is a family and relationship therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve, to be published Nov. 1 by Morgan James Publishing.  For more information, go to


  1. Matthew Cormier says:

    Well said, Damon, well said. I’ve dealt with this in my life so many times. When Ruth Warwick (Phoebe Wallingford, AMC) died I was just devastated and nobody in my college class could understand why I was so upset and just beside myself. I have very few friends that watch soaps and the ones that do are definitely not the obsessed, internet message board posting fanboys that I am. Anyway, I agree the loss of a soap opera performer or character can be truly devestating.

    When Anna Lee died I was beside myself, when Ruth Warwick died I cried for weeks and nobody seemed to understand me at all. Anyway, thanks for allowing us soap fans a way to grieve!

    Damon says: Thank you, Matthew, for sharing your memories with us. Here your grief is definitely understood.

  2. Oh Damon, you would have to remind me of Benjamin Hendrickson’s suicide. I did not need to go there. My stomach sucked in again with that remembrance, for I loved my Hal.

    Not watching Days or Another World that much, the deaths of Irene and James saddened but didn’t sucker punch me like Eileen (Myrtle’s). And to have AMC put us through a tornado with more lives lost, more emotional turmoil to characters we love … I’ve set aside my curl in the bed time, tears on my pillow, or whatever I have to do to cope with my loss. Because you’re right, it is a loss, and I don’t apologize to anyone for my feelings.

    Yes, some of my friends think I’m silly because I get caught up in day- and prime time characters. So what. I know they’re not physically real, but if we’re blessed they are emotionally real. They are a part of our lives that we’ve invested energy and emotion into because writer(s), actor(s), director(s), producer(s) and crew(s) have beautifully invested their energy and emotion to bring them to life. Even more given us a message, taught us life, advanced society in meaningful ways. Sure, soaps and prime time can be silly and there are some badly acted scenes, but they’ve tastefully and educationally discussed abortion, gay parenting, interracial dating and passing as white, cochlear implants, the Iraq War, and on and on.

    No, I will not apologize for watching any television since I do have quality tastes, and I will mourn the loss of the giants we have lost recently, in the past, and those o come with humility and gratefulness. They have touched my life, and made me a better person. I thank them. And what a wonderful article. Thanks Marlena.

    Another Bud to Eileen.

    Damon says: What a beautiful sentiment, Renee. I could not have said that better myself.

  3. Damon, this is brilliant.

    When we see these people day in and day out of COURSE we would be sad and mourn when we know that the performer has passed away. It’s simple in its brilliance but I don’t think anyone’s said it before.

    Well done!

    Damon says: Thank you so much Patrick. You, of course, are also able to relate to the impact of these losses on the fans.

  4. I sometimes think it is harder to deal with other viewers who are less emotionally attached fans on-line than the NAWs you mention in your articles. NAWs who know you well may not understand completely, but in my experience if they really care they try to be understanding.

    If you are chatting with another fan of a particular show who never cared about a particular person, they may not understand at all why you would be upset at their passing. Comments like “Oh it was no big deal, they were old or I never liked them anyway” don’t help. If anything it makes it worse …

    While I appreciate honesty, in a thread mourning someone there should be a little respect. I don’t have a problem with statements like “I never was a fan of theirs, but I have sympathy for those who are upset …” I’m not perfect and have said things that I bet have offended people, though that’s life.

    It is hard to deal when people have never been in your shoes, though I think it is also difficult for those who have never been in the place to mourn someone they never knew personally and only via their work. Feelings are feelings and if someone did something magnificent in their career or touched you emotionally, it should be honored.

    What I find kind of interesting is how upon the death of someone, so many people find solace in watching their work. I’m sort of the opposite, as seeing them makes it even harder. I’ll just share two examples. I remember it being almost impossible to watch Days at the holidays after Macdonald Carey passed, since Tom wouldn’t be there. On Another World, seeing the reruns surrounding Mac Cory’s death after Doug Watson passed away ripped my heart out years after the fact.

    Even after all these years, I still miss these characters and many others. As a person I acknowledge that I wouldn’t be the person I am today (for good and bad) without the certain influences which include soaps.

    Damon says: Thank you BlossLover. I think it comes down to respect. Even if we don’t share the same loss, we can respect each other. I’m sorry if that’s not happening on other message boards. But we certainly honor your feelings here!!

  5. Matt, I share the same feelings you did for Ruth.

    The day of Phoebe’s funeral was the day before I was scheduled to move out of my dorm in college. I, like you, was very affected by her passing. I had watched Ruth Warrick as Phoebe since I was in the womb, and having lived abroad, watched classic episodes of AMC when they were very much “The Phoebe Years.” Phoebe represented the best and worst qualities of everyone’s grandmother: loving and loyal to the death, but, overbearing and meddling to a fault. For more than twenty years, she was my other “grandmother.”

    I had just really begun my involvement in the online AMC community the year before, founding both the Openings site and working on the History Project. As the 35th Anniversary approached, my involvement only increased. One thing that kept me hooked was the fact that Ruth’s greatest chance of appearing onscreen again was going to be the anniversary episode. I became very close to someone “in the know,” and frequently checked in as to whether or not Ruth was going to be in attendance. I remember how much I wanted to see “Phoebe” one more time, for one last quick insult at Opal, or an “Oh, Brooke,” to Brooke, or a loud and shrill “Erica!” from across the room. I knew my chances were slim after seeing her condition when she accepted her Lifetime Emmy award, from a wheelchair, visibly in poor condition.

    I, like so many, was pleasantly surprised when Ruth did make an appearance at the 25th Anniversary celebration. After the brief flashes of Phoebe has passed, I knew this was going to be the last time we ever saw Phoebe. Though confined to a wheelchair, with no lines and barely able to move, Ruth stole the show for me.

    It was only days later that the news broke that Ruth had passed. I remember being on a message board, on the edge of tears. My roommate could see I was upset and asked me if something was wrong. It was hard to explain to someone I had only known for a year what had happened and why it affected me the way it did.

    As we began moving things out of the dorm, I asked my rm to move the TV last. He was scheduled to drive back to NJ at 2:30 pm, and I needed to make sure I saw AMC at 1:00 pm to say goodbye to Phoebe. Though the episode was disjointed with so many filler scenes with Ryan/Kendall, and Sam/Lily … the brief moments in the garden with all the Tylers and closest friends together provided me with the closure I needed as I too finally said goodbye to an old friend, someone I let into my living room for the last two decades every day.

    The thing about a being a kid who moved around as much as I did, across oceans and continents, AMC provided a sense of stability. A sense that something was always going to be there when I came home, or came back to the states. It was kind of a universal language, like Maths; among the international American community, AMC was very well known, well liked, and an easy conversation starter. My mother and I bonded over our love for the show. Her girlfriends loved the show, and as a result their kids did too. Stars like Ruth, Eileen, Ray, Julia, and Susan, who had been in Pine Valley for so long, were in our homes for just as long. I actually liked coming back to the states in the summer to watch current episodes and see them there, then return to my life abroad and see episodes from a decade earlier with the same familiar faces. It was like seeing family members you hadn’t seen for a while, their faces were different but there was always something so familiar and comfortable about them.

    Now, with only Ray and Susan from the original crowd, and really only James Mitchell from the 70s’ inaugural class, it is clear AMC has changed. It is getting to the point that Y&R, GH, OLTL, and GL have already reached … where the familiar family names are gone (where are the Marick/Greys? the Fryes? most of all, the Tylers?) I guess this point comes for all long running shows, but up until the 35th Anniversary and Ruth’s passing, these facets were still so well represented on All My Children. It is what distinguished AMC from the other soaps for me, it is what made them special.

    Eileen’s passing has been just as tragic. Eileen was a presence in Pine Valley. Myrtle’s role as the lost children of PV’s surrogate mother was like none other on daytime. Really, the residents of Pine Valley were all her children. I took advantage of the fact that Eileen was always there … until the end. Unlike Ruth, Eileen was in good health until very recently. She continued to make appearances, take active roles in storylines, I didn’t think it was her time to go. I guess as a result, I was less ready for passing. I guess that is the way of life. Never to be sad it’s over, just happy because it happened.

    Damon says: Thank you, AMC History, for such an eloquent and heart-filled response. You illustrate how AMC has consistently provided you with comfort, stability and familiarity in times when your life had much upheaval (much like me with DAYS). This is a wonderful example of why this genre is unique and deserves preserving.

  6. Matthew Cormier says:

    Wow, AMCHISTORY, your post has touched me in a very special way. I can relate to what you are saying so much. I was also in college when Ruth passed and I recall being in my Communication Research class when I heard about her passing, I just couldn’t stop crying. I look at “AMC” now and I realize how many of the important characters from the show’s history are no longer around — the Cuddahys, the Freys, the Marrick/Greys, the Brents, most of the Martins, the Dillions, the Courtlands, the Colbys. It’s such a shame that this once great show has lost sight of its history.

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