Remembering the Phoenix.

Today Soaps.com is honoring legendary Days of our Lives star, Joseph Mascolo, who passed on at the age of 87. It’s been hard to believe the last time fans saw Salem’s most notorious supervillain Stefano DiMera on screen was as an apparition after his death in a scene with Hope and Bo Brady at the Horton Cabin on Smith Island Wednesday June 8 2016.

Stefano was killed by Hope Brady who shot him three times in the chest after he goaded her into it, and then with Rafe Hernandez’s help, was buried under a pile of trash Monday January 11, in a building slated for demolition. One of – if not the biggest – villains in soap opera history is dead, really dead. According to “Days of our Lives” producer Ken Corday, anyone who dies in Salem from September 2015 on will remain that way so, as Hope (Kristian Alfonso) said in her last words to the man who tortured her and her family over the years, the Phoenix shall rise no more. But, these are the soaps after all, so anything can happen. And it did. Mascolo returned a few times since Stefano’s demise, playing an apparition in May and then June in scenes with Chad, then with Bo and Hope as stated previously. Hope Brady has since gone to prison for murder one, and viewers recently learned that Stefano was dying of colon cancer and purchased an unregistered gun, hoping somebody would use it to end his life. It’s fitting that Stefano would want to go out in a blaze of glory.

Talented Joe Mascolo originated to role of Stefano in 1982, a character that became vastly layered over the years to show his many sides – shrewd businessman, ruthless terrorist, intense lover, and in-your-face family man. The role was made specifically for Mascolo by then-head writer Pat Falken Smith after catching his performance as mobster Salvatore Maranzano on “The Gangster Chronicles,” and Mascolo took it and ran with it.

Right away Stefano insinuated himself among the residents of Salem, almost immediately learning he was the father of Renee Dumonde (Philece Sampler) and that his son Tony (Thaao Penghlis) was not really his son. Not to worry – his nephew Andre (Penghlis) got plastic surgery to look just like Tony in the ’90s, and eventually, many years later in 2015, it was revealed Andre was Stefano’s biological son after all.

And as misguided as his actions were many times for the sake of his family, Stefano loved all of his children, both biological, including Renee, Benjy Hawk (Darrell Thomas Utley, Jim Lunsford), Megan Hathaway (Miranda Wilson), Lexi Carver (Cyndi James Gossett, Angelique Francis, Shellye Broughton, Renee Jones), Andre, EJ Dimera (James Scott) and Chad DiMera (Casey Deidrick, Billy Flynn), and by adoption Kristen Blake (Eileen Davidson) and Peter Blake (Jason Brook, Jayson Boyd).

Of course, his fierce love didn’t stop Stefano from occasionally doing horrible things to his own children. He had Andre kidnap Lexi and hold her prisoner in the tunnels underneath Salem until Bo, Hope, Doug and Julie found her when looking for information about the DiMera/Brady Feud. The prolonged exposure to fumes in the tunnel led to Lexi dying from a brain tumor. Stefano attempted to pass his own son (EJ) off as Kristen and John’s; he disowned EJ and tried to sabotage his political career; and he was complicit in manipulating Chad’s love life multiple times to suit the benefit of the family. In fact, meddling in his kids’ love lives was second nature to Stefano – no relationship went unscathed by his influence.

He battled with many residents over the years, most notably Hope and Bo (Peter Reckell) and Marlena (Deidre Hall), his Queen of the Night, and John (Drake Hogestyn), many times with the help of his parade of goons. And occasionally, his enemies and goons were one in the same, thanks to Stefano’s stellar brainwashing skills. One of the most notorious things Stefano has ever done was turning Hope and John into Gina Von Amberg and The Pawn in order to steal priceless art. Of course, even that was hard to top his despicable 1995 act of plying Marlena with mind-altering drugs, causing her to become possessed by the devil.

Many have tried to take out Stefano over the years – including his failing health – but the Phoenix was always able to rise. Stefano escaped the icy Salem harbor after his car was submerged; he lived after being shot by Marlena in a burning building while he had a brain tumor; he survived a cave collapse; he made it through his car exploding with him in it; he came back after a drowning in 1994; he persevered after a plane explosion, and then later that same year he was supposedly blown up and buried under a collapsing tunnel. He was presumed dead from a car crash in Monte Carlo, as one of the Salem Stalker victims and even in an elaborate setup to frame EJ for Stefano’s murder.

But Stefano has found love a time or two as well. Or at least, some semblance of love. He married fellow baddie Vivian Alamain (Louise Sorel) in order to get some of his possessions back that she inherited from her deceased husband, Steven “Jonesy” Jones (Robert Mandan), but there was no real passion there. He was certainly obsessed with Marlena – aided by a lightning strike in 1995 – and it fueled his possessive actions over the years. And his marriage to Kate Roberts (Lauren Koslow) in 2009 had everyone believing maybe this time the man had met his match. Instead of enjoying his time with Kate, he tested her love by ignoring her and pushing her into the arms of an old lover, Ian McAllister, played by  Ian Buchanan. When Kate failed, Stefano dumped Kate and took control of Countess Wilhelmina Cosmetics and Kate’s Hearth and Home company, then to top things off, made Kate’s number one enemy, Samantha Brady (Ali Sweeney), CEO. Shall we dare to mention that later, when he learned Rafe Hernandez (Galen Gering) and Kate were lovers that he ordered his dirty insider SPD detective, Joseph Bernardi to “cut it off” while Hernandez was in a coma?

In his final days, Stefano showed his frailty and humanity more than ever. He outlived both Kristen and EJ and his heart attack last year left him weak and wheelchair bound, which seemed to only deepen his family ties, especially with his youngest. He truly seemed to bond with Chad in his last years, and he was maybe even Chad’s last bit of protection from Andre, who seems more than willing to take over the evil reins of the DiMera.

It’s that complexity and depth of character that made Stefano DiMera one of the best soap villains of all time. He loved, he hated, he taunted, he teased, he took no prisoners and rarely showed mercy. Stefano will be sorely missed by his many fans and us at Soaps.com. We salute Joe Mascolo and his 33 years as Stefano – there will never be another character like Stefano nor another actor quite like Mascolo.

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Read more about Joseph Mascolo leaving Salem as Stefano DiMera. Then get all the latest “Days” casting news in Days of our Lives comings and goings.

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Photo credit: John Paschal/JPI

– Hollie Deese

(Originally posted January 14, 2016, refreshed by Christine Fix December 9, 2016)