Kristoff St. John (1966-2019): An Appreciation

Kristoff St. John winning his second Emmy award for the role of Neil Winters on The Young and the Restless during the 35th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards held at the Kodak Theatre on June 20, 2008 in Hollywood, California.

I grew up watching daytime soap operas, aka “stories” as black folk call them. My mom watched all the stories on ABC: Ryan’s Hope, General Hospital, One Life to Live, and All My Children.

As a kid, when I stayed over my Aunt Lonnie Mae and Uncle Tillman’s house, they watched all the CBS stories: As The World Turns, Guiding Light, The Bold and the Beautiful, and of course, The Young and the Restless.

There weren’t a lot of black characters on soap operas, daytime or nighttime, when I was a child. When one showed up, black folk paid attention. NBC’s Generations (1989-1991) was the first daytime soap to feature a wealthy black family. Kristoff St. John played “Adam” a young, rich playboy. I didn’t watch Generations, but I did watch The Young and the Restless. When St. John’s character “Neil Winters” showed up to Jabot Cosmetics in 1991 looking for a job, I was like, “Who is that fine-ass brother?”

I said, “Oh, that’s the brother from The Cosby Show! He was Denise’s boyfriend!” Kristoff St. John had been acting since the age of eight. I’m sure I’d seen him before on television, but that one-time role of Denise Huxtable’s boyfriend was memorable because he gave Cliff (Bill Cosby) such a hard time.

On Y&R, Neil was THE MAN. He was beautiful, sexy, smart, charismatic, masculine, and he represented the best of us. Neil was everything. Back in the day, Neil and Drucilla were #relationshipgoals.  In the early to mid-90s, Neil, Drucilla, Malcolm, and Olivia were just the jam. I loved everything about them.

From L to R: Neil (Kristoff St. John), Drucilla (Victoria Rowell), Malcolm (Shemar Moore), and Olivia (Tonya Lee Williams). The Young & The Restless League of Beautiful Black People.

I drifted away from soap operas once I started working full-time, but I kept up with them from a distance. Kristoff St. John became a legend working on Y&R. He was there for 28 years. He won two Emmys in 1992 and 2008 for his role. He was a leading man in a space that didn’t always represent black folk in the best light. I loved that I could jump back into Y&R and there was Neil Winters.

I was so sorry to hear about his son Julian’s suicide in 2014. I remember seeing St. John and his now-ex-wife Mia St. John on television a few years ago talking about how crushing their son’s death was for them. Losing a child is not something a parent ever recovers from. St. John retweeted a tweet a few weeks before he died that read (I’m paraphrasing): “A parent only recovers from a child’s death by being reunited with him.” St. John’s cause of death is unknown for now, but I pray he is at peace and reunited with his son.

In life, Kristoff St. John made the difficult transition from child actor to successful adult actor. In the soap opera world, he became one of the best actors in the business. Thank you Mr. St. John for coming into our homes every day.

Up next: #metoo on a million little things (Thursdays, 9:00pm EST on ABC)

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