Thom Bierdz is a man of many talents. During the 1980s, when he first played Philip Chancellor III on the top-rated soap opera “The Young & the Restless,” he was a teen idol. But, as he recalls in his memoir, “Forgiving Troy,” Bierdz had a secret. As millions of teenagers swooned over his stunning good looks, Bierdz struggled to accept his homosexuality. He lived in fear — in those days, coming out in Hollywood meant career suicide.
In 1989, Bierdz left “The Young & the Restless,” hoping for a film career. The events that followed proved to be far more dramatic, and traumatic, than any of his soap opera exploits.
As he recounts in “Forgiving Troy,” Bierdz had to deal with the murder of his mom at the hands of a mentally-ill brother and his other brother’s suicide. But, he’s a strong guy. He bounced back, came out, and forged a new, successful career as an artist.
A few weeks ago, the still beautiful Bierdz returned to “The Young & the Restless.”
It seems that Philip didn’t die in that car accident all those years ago — he staged his death to keep his loved ones from finding out that he was gay. On July 7, 2009, Philip Chancellor III, back in Genoa City, came out to his “widow,” Nina.
Nina is played by Tricia Cast, Bierdz’ co-star from the 1980s. She also returned to the show and couldn’t be happier about the current storyline.
“I’m pleased and proud to be part of such a well written storyline,” Cast said in an email to Q-Notes. “I’m hopeful that it will be helpful to some people. Perhaps those who have yet to come out will feel freer to do so. And, perhaps, others will be led to a place of love and acceptance.”
Bierdz reports that longtime viewers are “shocked” by this new development — Philip was one of the show’s “straightest” characters. But, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I get hundreds of emails from people in the closet thanking me,” he says. “And emails from straight people thanking me for helping to represent the gays in their families. I get kudos from ex-wives of gays and children of gays and mothers of gays.”
As daunting as it may seem, Bierdz will continue to work on his art while performing on a daily, network TV show. He travels extensively in order to fill the numerous portrait commissions he gets. He’s also become a well known artist in the Hollywood community, having done paintings inspired by the film “Brokeback Mountain,” and portraits of the recently departed icons Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett.
Bierdz reports that he’s currently single, which has worked out well because he’s so busy. “But, I’m looking forward to romance,” he says.
And will romance find it’s way into the life of his character? A partnership between Philip and Rafe, the show’s other gay character?
“Man, I hope so! Rafe is very cute,” says Bierdz.
For now, Bierdz is happy to work on his art and develop the Chancellor storyline. He says that his current deal with the show is open ended, and he thanks head writer Maria Arena Bell for her support and open-mindedness.
“I am honored to be a gay man playing a gay man in such a visible role that’s seen daily by millions of people,” he says. “I think Philip’s presence on this show is needed to show how gay people are normal and a part of everyone’s lives. I want to make Philip someone people are proud to know.”
“The Young & the Restless” airs weekdays on CBS and weeknights on Soap Net.
For more information on Thom Bierdz’ art, or to order his book “Forgiving Troy,” visit ThomBierdz.com.
— David Alex Nahmod lives in San Francisco. Visit him at DavidsOpenForum.Blogspot.com.