Thom Bierdz Interview: "The Young and the Restless" Star's Memoir Details Tragic Life and Ultimately … Forgiveness
Born on March 25, 1962 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Thom Bierdz is best known for his portrayal of Phillip Chancellor III on the popular CBS daytime drama The Young and the Restless. He originated the role in 1986, but left three years later when his character “died” in a drunk-driving accident, returning only briefly in 2004 for a “dream sequence.”
Shortly after Bierdz left the soap in 1989, his youngest brother Troy, a paranoid schizophrenic, beat their mother to death with a baseball bat. He was on his way to kill Bierdz in Los Angeles when he was arrested near the Mexican border a week later. Troy is currently serving a life sentence in a Wisconsin prison. In 2002, Bierdz’s other brother Craig committed suicide.
"She took him to counselor after counselor – doctor after doctor. I, too, did not believe he was schizophrenic back then – and 95% of the doctors did not believe he was schizophrenic either. My family did not believe he was schizophrenic, but five years after he killed mom, he had certainly become schizophrenic … whether he was or not before that."
In honor of his mother and in an attempt to come to terms with what happened on that fateful day, Bierdz wrote a memoir entitled Forgiving Troy. The book is a true story of a family’s unspeakable tragedy, of mental illness, of recovery, and ultimately of forgiveness.
Bierdz is also an accomplished, nationally known artist and humanitarian who has received many awards for his artwork. Participating in many fundraising events around the country with his paintings, Bierdz has raised over $100,000 for charities.
The actor returned to The Young and the Restless on May 15 to reprise his role as the son of Phillip Chancellor II and Jill Foster (Abbott).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Thom, I can’t even imagine something that horrible happening within a family … your own brother murdering your mother. Writing Forgiving Troy helped you to heal your emotional wounds?
Thom Bierdz: Some of my family doesn’t understand why I would bring up the hard times, but I had to. The second half of Forgiving Troy is miraculous, but to explain a miracle, one needs the “before.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What was the very first thing you thought of when your sister Hope told you that your mother was dead?
Thom Bierdz: How do I get a hold of Mom NOW?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Describe your relationship with your mom before her death.
Thom Bierdz: I loved my mom and feel guilty I wasn’t there more for her. I had flown the coup and was into my selfish Hollywood desires.
She knew I was very independent and called me stubborn. She made a head out of clay in her art class and gave it to me and said, “Your head is as hard as a rock.” She smiled. I took it as a compliment.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Has Troy read the book?
Thom Bierdz: I don’t think so. But he has given me his approval and understands why it was so important for me to share.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your mom was killed, one brother committed suicide, and another brother is in prison. How did all of that affect you mentally and physically?
Thom Bierdz: Wore me out. I have to believe in a bigger world – another plane – answers SOMEWHERE.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you ever experience “Survivor’s Guilt?”
Thom Bierdz: Not consciously.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It has been said that vulnerability to disease is inherited when speaking of mental illness. Do you think that there is a genetic predisposition to mental illness, especially with depression and schizophrenia?
Thom Bierdz: I like what Seth Speaks (1970s) says about that – that inside all our bodies we have the possibility of all cures and all diseases … each of us. I like to believe the power of the mind and heart is bigger than genetics.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It seemed rather difficult for doctors to diagnose Troy. Do you think that Troy was “playing” the doctors some of the time?
Thom Bierdz: Yes.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why do you think he was “playing” them?
Thom Bierdz: My mom discovered a book on paranoid schizophrenia under Troy’s bed when he was a teenager. She did not know if he thought he was schizophrenic and was researching himself or if he was using this book as a textbook to pretend and fake schizophrenia.
She took him to counselor after counselor – doctor after doctor. I, too, did not believe he was schizophrenic back then – and 95% of the doctors did not believe he was schizophrenic either. My family did not believe he was schizophrenic, but five years after he killed mom, he had certainly become schizophrenic … whether he was or not before that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is Troy coping in prison?
Thom Bierdz: He’s been there 20 years and will be there another 30. He is really frustrated being in the same place so long, but he is taken care of, in a good way.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What do you two talk about during prison visits?
Thom Bierdz: During visits, we talk about his life … and that is, basically what he has to eat and what he watches on TV, and what classes he goes to. I share my life as well, but sometimes he yearns for the outside life and doesn’t like to hear what it has to offer because he is locked up for another 30 years.
He calls me on the phone a lot and we talk about my appearances on Y&R and other TV shows we both watch; Twilight Zone and Big Brother. He also calls several of my ex-boyfriends who met him in the prison visiting room and have remained friends with him.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you close to your sister?
Thom Bierdz: I adore her, and also worry that I hurt her with my sharing our history. She is very kind and sweet and does not like to share personal info like I feel compelled to do.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’re in the current issue of Soap Opera Digest saying that your character came off as arrogant. But, wasn’t Phillip actually talking about how the whole world would have rejected him 20 years ago rather than just singling out Jill and Katherine’s feelings?
Thom Bierdz: Oh yes, I wrote that in response to a fan that said, “If Phillip is gonna come back with an attitude, why bother?” The fan didn’t understand the psyche of a gay man who fakes his death to survive. He is guarded, which may appear arrogant.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Many times a character “dies” on a soap and is brought back. But, I believe your storyline is probably a first in soap history. Also a first, I think, is the “best friends” storyline between Phillip and Nina. There is such closeness there and we know that the two most likely will not end up in bed together. Do you have a close relationship with Tricia Cast off screen also?
Thom Bierdz: She is as real as they come … a wonderful actress and a very down to earth lady. I adore her husband, too, a very popular singer named Bat McGrath.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you think that Phillip will ever have a close relationship with his son?
Thom Bierdz: I hope so.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Can we expect you on the soap for at least the next year?
Thom Bierdz: My six-month contract is ending this month. I hope they extend it. I don’t know.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You spoke fondly of Jeanne Cooper in your book. What kind of relationship do the two of you share?
Thom Bierdz: I can look deep in her eyes and see a soul who cares so much about the comfort and well being of others.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): An actress on One Life to Live was recently fired because she wouldn’t portray her character as a “gay-friendly” mother.
Thom Bierdz: Wow, I am shocked.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): An actor on The Young and the Restless left because he didn’t like his negative storyline plus he was about to have an onscreen same-sex kiss. As an actor, is there something that you would not do in a role?
Thom Bierdz: Because acting is not my only income (I also paint), I wouldn’t take a role if it offended me. But, I would never quit if I were asked to “kiss a girl.” I find it shocking when “straight” people are offended at homosexual roles.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You are such a creative person; you act, paint, and write. Have you ever thought about a singing career?
Thom Bierdz: I have never wanted to be the center of attention and would never want to be the only one on stage that the audience was looking at. It would terrify me.
I like the idea of TV cameras and TV for some reason. So, even if my musical ambitions manifested, I would not want to perform, but I’d like people to play my music at their homes.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I think your paintings are phenomenal! Two of my favorites are Tony and Max (the cats), as I love all cat pictures. Do you find that you like to paint more than act?
Thom Bierdz: I definitely prefer painting. It is private, spiritual, invigorating.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you need to be in a certain mood before you begin a painting?
Thom Bierdz: I need to be prepared to work long – because when I sit in front of a canvas, I may be there a long time and it drains me – so I usually have to be geared up – have chocolate or caffeine!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m also curious as to where you got your inspiration for “Floating Apple Tree.”
Thom Bierdz: I was thinking that in the future all the land may be built upon, and the only parks may be floating ones on huge flat ships.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have any upcoming projects in film or with your art?
Thom Bierdz: Several movies have asked to use my art. One of them is called Sticke Figures. Great script.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tell us something about Thom Bierdz that we’d be surprised to know.
Thom Bierdz: I have prayed to God every night since I was a little boy asking that He use me to help others. But, I also always add, humorously, at no cost to myself. I don’t want it to be an effort to help other people. I just want it to happen.
To order Forgiving Troy and/or to view Thom’s artwork, go to www.thombierdz.com.
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