Kristoff St. John, best known for his role as Neil Winters on CBS’ The Young and the Restless has died at the age of 52. News of his untimely death has rocked the entertainment industry and fans alike.
CBS Television Network and Sony Pictures Television released a joint statement about the passing of their CBS Daytime family member:
“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.”CBS Television Network and Sony Pictures Television
St. John was a former child actor, appearing in Big John, Little John, The Bad News Bears and Roots: The Next Generation, who successfully transitioned into adulthood with a successful career. After a guest starring role in The Cosby Show, he landed his first major role as the son of music legend Gladys Knight in the CBS sitcom Charlie & Co. when he was 19 years old. What arguably put him on the map was his role as Adam Marshall on the short-lived but groundbreaking NBC serial Generations.
Generations was set apart from its daytime peers due to it’s focus on diversity, class differences and being more grounded in real life issues than some others at the time. After the series’ cancelation in 1991, St. John would land his most iconic role – Neil Winters.
Like many, my introduction to Kristoff St. John came as a child while watching The Young and the Restless with my paternal grandmother. Created by the late great William J. Bell, Neil Winters embodied what it was to be a successful black professional in corporate America. He was charming, he was sexy, he was charismatic, and allowed to be different than other African-American characters, who even then, were rare to be main ones. Though he was a little (okay, a lot) uptight and very self-aware to the point of nausea, it was a romance with opposite Drucilla Winters (Victoria Rowell) that allowed Neil to embrace all facets of himself and become the man fans knew and loved to this day.
The term “super couple” gets thrown around a lot these days, but in the 90s to be a super couple was rare thing, especially a black super couple. Neil and Drucilla’s fiery passion and drama drew in millions across the US, especially in black communities. My grandmother often spoke of Neil with great affection, and usually followed up with something along the lines of “And here goes that damn Dru causing trouble for that man”. It was St. John’s Neil, Rowell’s Dru, Shemar Moore’s Malcolm and Tonya Lee Williams’ Olivia that helped build Y&R’s loyal African-American fanbase, who still speak of those four actors and characters with reverence and love.
As other stars came and went over the years (some through no fault of their own), Kristoff St. John’s Neil was a mainstay. But despite his critical acclaim, popularity, ascension to leading man status and one half of the series’ first black super couple, he didn’t always get the same the same press opportunities as his peers, something he was quite vocal about over the years.
In what was an unintentionally ironic storyline in the mid-00’s, his character had a realization that he’d hit a glass ceiling at Newman Enterprises. Despite his years of loyalty to the Newman family and their company, and being more qualified and experienced than his peers, he was never going to be in charge. That dose of reality is something many people of color can relate.
We’ve spoken a lot about the importance of real representation at TV Source Magazine and on the TV Source podcast. Mr. Bell understood that showcasing diversity in a way that wasn’t paying lip service — by committing to who these characters were and their stories — benefited his series overall. It was under his pen that viewers – myself included – saw someone like Kristoff St. John be more than just a stereotype.
When we talk about the black actor, and the significance the black actor can have on young black children, Kristoff St. John’s name must be included. A generation of viewers grew up seeing someone who looked, spoke, acted, succeeded and failed just like them. Who loved their wives, their children, their friends and had family just like them. To put it bluntly, he was a daytime icon.
Over the course of his career, Kristoff St. John amassed 10 NAACP Image Awards and was a nine-time Daytime Emmy nominee and two-time winner — Outstanding Younger Actor in 1993 and Outstanding Supporting Actor in 2008.
Why is it after someone passes away we shower them with the tributes and love and respect they should have received when here to accept it? I admit I may be guilty of this myself. I didn’t feel comfortable writing about Mr. St. John’s death for a variety of reasons, but it was a TV Source colleague who said to me, “We have to say something.”
It’s difficult to write about someone’s life that honors their career and legacy without feeling like you’re leaving something out, even more so because it’s hard to find the right words that reflect the sadness and loss one feels as a fan.
TV Source Magazine extends its heartfelt condolences to the friends and family of Mr. St. John.