On February 3, 2019, Kristoff St. John passed away unexpectedly of heart failure, leaving close friends, family, and the cast of The Young and the Restless with a huge hole to fill. When the ground-breaking soap Generations was canceled and his Daytime Emmy-nominated stint finished, Bill Bell singled out St. John for a four-episode arc in Genoa City as Neil Winters. Two episodes in, Kristoff was placed on contract. The rest is history.
A Light That Lingers in Genoa City: Remembering Neil Winters
Unlike many soap characters, Neil Winters touched everyone in Genoa City, in one way or another. He was an MBA graduate, training to be an executive at Jabot when Drucilla Barber (Victoria Rowell) took a shine to him. The fiery ballerina needed a “mystery” boyfriend to placate her sister Olivia (Tonya Lee Williams).
After all, she couldn’t have her sister realizing the truth — that Dru had her eye on her man, Nathan Hastings. But Dru was outsmarted by her own plot. As the old saying goes, opposites attract and the coupling of Neil and Dru took it to a whole new level.
Neil could navigate a friendship with the two strongest personalities in GC– Victor Newman (Eric Braeden) and Jack Abbott (Peter Bergman). He could be a friend/lover to Victoria (Amelia Heinle), and a basketball partner and pal to Nick (Joshua Morrow). He could also be a confidante/lover to Ashley Abbott (Eileen Davidson).
He was quick to offer Phyllis (Michelle Stafford) advice when needed (before and after she was blamed for Dru’s death). He leaned on Nikki (Melody Thomas Scott) and Jack for support when he battled the bottle, and he reached out to Paul (Doug Davidson) when he needed information. Heck, even Kay Chancellor (the late Jeanne Cooper) bent his ear quite often!
Neil Winters was just about everyone’s best friend. He seemed to intuitively understand that people were flawed, including himself, and were in need of compassion, of being heard. And he did that time and time again.
The Winters family could be compared to a beautiful quilt, taken from tattered fabric pieces, creating something greater than itself. Starting with the Barber family, the introduction of his half-brother Malcolm (Shemar Moore), the birth of Lily (Christel Khalil), later found to be Malcolm’s child, the adoption of Devon Hamilton (Bryton James), the fostering of Ana Hamilton (Loren Lott), the addition of grandchildren, the stray misfits of broken and wounded people that Neil supported and nurtured over the years, sometimes at the expense of his own needs, all woven into a stunning blanket adding warmth to the cold Wisconsin town.
An Entrepreneur and Dreamer
Neil was ambitious. It meant a lot to him to progress up the company ladder. Whether he was at Jabot Cosmetics, Newman Entreprises, Chancellor Industries, the Hamilton-Winters Group, AbbottWinters Group, or Power Communications, he was committed to excel in every way. Yet that wasn’t enough. He had more dreams. He followed his love of jazz and created the Indigo Jazz Club. If he hadn’t passed away quietly in his sleep on April 23, 2019, who knows what Neil Winters’s next venture would have been.
With two Daytime Emmys and multiple other awards under his belt, Kristoff St. John was an actor’s actor, entrepreneur, businessman, and friend, but the role he loved most in life was being a father, much like the character he played, Neil Winters. The family he “remade” in Genoa City is sure to feel his presence for years to come.
What’s your favorite Neil memory? Share your thoughts below! The Young and the Restless (YR) airs weekdays on CBS. Check your local listings for airtimes.