Birth of a Supervillain: On the 40th Anniversary of Stefano DiMera’s First Appearance on Days of Our Lives, an Awestruck Tribute to the Phoenix Who Kicked All Our Ashes
The Phoenix may be gone, but he’ll never be forgotten.
Stefano DiMera may have made his first appearance on Days of Our Lives 40 years ago today, but it was actually 41 years ago that the legend of the Phoenix was born.
It was the spring of 1981, and Days of Our Lives’ then-headwriter Pat Falken Smith was watching the NBC miniseries The Gangster Chronicles. One performance in particular captivated her — that of Joseph Mascolo as real-life crime boss Salvatore Maranzo. In fact, Smith was so impressed, she decided to create a role just for him on Days of Our Lives.
That role was, of course, Stefano DiMera, and he debuted less than a year later on January 18, 1982.
It’s easy to see how that gangster DNA was built into Stefano from the very start, but over the years, the man became so, so much more. Hell, he even has his own page on the Villains Wiki, right up there with the likes of Batman and Superman archenemies the Joker and Lex Luthor.
We didn’t get to see much of Stefano in that first episode in 1982, but we definitely got a good feel for the menace he’d bring to Salem. He sat with his son (or at least, who we all believed at the time to be his son), Tony, going through footage that the younger DiMera had secretly recorded of our beloved Salemites at his New Year’s Eve party. The two plotted which families to infiltrate, which obstacles had to be removed and which women would help them establish a foothold in the US.
Julie Williams, Kayla Brady, Mary Anderson — everyone was fair game when it came to their master plan.
And though we wouldn’t realize the significance of the moment until later, it was the first time that Stefano laid eyes on Marlena Evans. That first episode was the beginning of an obsession that would result in an endless game of cat and mouse as he stalked, kidnapped, drugged, brainwashed and essentially tormented his “queen of the night” for decades.
All in all, it was a debut that would have made a Bond villain proud. His ability to evade the Grim Reaper even earned him a cool supervillain name, because like the legendary Phoenix, he rose from the ashes time and again.
While a complete cataloging of his misdeeds would take longer than any of us have, suffice it to say that they ranged from your typical soap crimes like blackmail, smuggling and the occasional murder to brainwashing and replacing rivals with doppelgängers… you know, the kind of behavior that earns you a place in the Evil League of Evil. At the beating, black heart of his origin story was a family feud which had pitted the DiMera and Brady clans against one another long before viewers had met any of ’em.
Still, Stefano wasn’t all bad. He valued his kinfolk above all others… which was important, given that his family tree included at least eight biological children, not to mention an assortment of young people whom he either adopted or raised as if they were his own. Perhaps as a way of guaranteeing that he would always be the dominant figure in the lives of his offspring, their mothers were practically disposable. Often, his kids were byproducts of schemes which involved seduction as a means to an end.
Double, Double, Toil and Trouble
Stefano always had a soft spot in his heart for lookalikes. He first brought “nephew” André to town because he needed someone as ruthless as himself to back him up. Tony wasn’t cutting it, so he had André’s face reconstructed to look like Tony’s, thus allowing him to impersonate his “cousin” whenever the need arose. And if that meant Tony had to occasionally be locked in a dungeon so as not to spoil the fun, so be it.
Then there was Susan Banks, whom Stefano hired to impersonate daughter Kristen and give birth to a baby that would help her hold onto John Black. As if this weren’t twisted enough, Stefano himself fathered Susan’s baby, meaning that he impregnated his own child’s lookalike. (Oh, and he did so while impersonating Susan’s beloved Elvis Presley, explaining why she opted to name the resulting tot EJ — aka Elvis Junior!)
And remember Princess Gina? Of course you do! Before she was a microchipped personality in Hope’s head, she was Hope’s actual doppelgänger. Stefano partnered her with a brainwashed John Black and employed her as his personal art thief and forger. When she became too difficult to control, he just swapped out Hope’s personality with Gina’s, and boom, he had Gina Part II!
Over the years, Stefano would also craft doubles for Marlena, Rafe and Hope. Ya know, just for good measure.
The Phoenix Risen, Re-Risen and So On
By our count, Stefano has “died” 13 times, not including last year’s storyline in which his “essence” was inserted into Steve Johnson via a microchip. Sometimes we were witnesses to his demise, while on other occasions, we were told he’d met his maker off screen. Long before coming back from the dead was as common among Salemites as being the object of Julie Williams’ scornful glare, Stefano was proving himself a trendsetter.
His favorite cause of death? Anything involving flames, whether it be an exploding car, crashing plane or just a good, old-fashioned inferno. And really, that was just smart branding. The Phoenix is a much better nickname if you’re literally rising from the ashes.
Maybe it was his mysterious Phoenix ring that gave Stefano the ability to return to life. Maybe it was whatever mystical powers he got from being, as he claimed, the seventh son of a seventh son.
Or maybe he was just really good at playing possum.
In any case, each rebirth seemed to bring another facet of Stefano to light. Ruthless business tycoon, gangster, international terrorist, assassin, mad scientist (OK, that’s more Dr. Rolf’s gig, but pretty much every one of his devious creations was conceived at Stefano’s behest), and more often than not, overbearing family man.
When the Phoenix finally died for good — owing, sadly, to Mascolo’s passing in real life — a group of Salem’s finest gathered to toast his death. As seen in the clip below, many of his victims — at least those who managed to survive — came together on an appropriately stormy night to raise a glass in his dishonor.
“For 34 years, this town has endured unspeakable horror and unrelenting torment,” Caroline Brady told those present that evening, “because of one man. Because of him, everyone has suffered terrible losses. By the grace of God, his reign of terror has finally come to an end. So here’s to the death of Stefano DiMera!”
Sadly, we know we’ll never see Stefano on our screens again as we lost the incomparable Mascolo in 2016. But we have a feeling the character’s legend will live on for a long, long time. After all, when it comes to soap villains, they truly don’t make ’em like they used to.
Visit the comment section to share your favorite Stefano storyline. Then, why not check out our ranking of the villain’s 10 dirtiest deeds of all time as we chronicle his life and crimes in the photo gallery below.