As The Young and the Restless (Y&R) head writer Josh Griffith screened the episode in which Neil Winters’ family learns of his death, the tears began to flow.
Viewers might brace for a similar reaction when the Global daytime serial says farewell to Neil and to Kristoff St. John, the actor who played the character for nearly three decades.
WATCH: Kristoff St. John dead — ‘Young and the Restless’ star dies at 52
St. John, who died at age 52 in February of heart disease, helped cement the prominence of major African-American characters in the traditionally white soap opera world.
During Tuesday’s episode, Neil was found dead by his son Devon Hamilton, played by Bryton James. Viewers don’t know the details surrounding St. John’s character’s death yet.
During a four-episode story arc airing Tuesday through Friday, Neil’s friends and family gather in fictional Genoa City to remember the businessman whose full life included complicated relationships and a battle with alcoholism.
WATCH: Stars react to Kristoff St. John’s death
People need “to prepare themselves for a very profoundly emotional journey over those four days and have lots of boxes of Kleenex right by,” Griffith said. “But in the end, as we knew that Kristoff would want it, it goes from being a passing of him to a celebration of his life.”
Shemar Moore returns to Y&R for two episodes airing April 25 and 26 as Neil’s brother, Malcolm Winters. Other Y&R alums returning for Neil’s funeral include Christel Khalil, Stan Shaw and Eileen Davidson.
A special airing April 29 will pay tribute to the late actor and his nearly 28-year tenure on Y&R with clips from the show and current and former cast members sharing memories of him, including Victoria Rowell, who played Neil’s wife Drucilla for a number of years.
READ MORE: Kristoff St. John’s cause of death revealed
Griffith said Y&R owed it to St. John to honour him.
“We had to, for his sake, for his legacy. He was so important to the show, so important to daytime television,” he said. “To television, period.”
“He was too humble and grounded to consider himself someone who had broken any ground. He was just an actor who came to work doing something he loved and he never really approached it any other way,” Griffith said.
WATCH: Melody Thomas Scott mourns her former castmate, Kristoff St. John
The possibility of casting another actor as Neil was never considered, said producer Griffith.
Griffith said that St. John gave the character “his humanity, his joy of life.” And as a “strong African-American character — successful, powerful, passionate — he opened the doors for so many actors. He was just a wonderful human being.”
Last month, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner confirmed that St. John’s death at age 52 has been ruled an accident.
His cause of death is listed as hypertrophic heart disease, which the Mayo Clinic defines as a condition in which the “heart muscle becomes abnormally thick,” making it harder for the heart to pump blood.
Alcohol is listed as a “contributing factor” in his death.
On Feb. 4, police were called to St. John’s home for what was considered a “possible alcohol overdose.” An autopsy was conducted at the time, but the cause of death was deferred until the coroner could conduct an additional investigation.
St. John was recently engaged to model Kseniya Olegovna Mikhaleva, and the couple had planned a wedding for the fall.
St. John left behind two daughters, Paris Nicole and Lola.
—With files from the Associated Press and Global News’ Chris Jancelewicz
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