In Loving Memory of a Young & Restless Leading Man Who Played a Scoundrel Like Nobody’s Business
CBS/Courtesy of the Everett Collection, CBS screenshot
November 28 will always be a dark day for daytime television and its fans.
It isn’t just difficult to believe that Terry Lester passed away on this day in 2003, it borders on impossible. A life force coursed through the actor that was so strong, it all but vibrated. And when he was on screen, our televisions shone a little brighter, as if lit from within by something far more vibrant and powerful than a picture tube.
Yet nearly two decades ago, Lester did indeed die on November 28 — at just 53 years old, of what was said to be a heart attack. His fans were shocked. His fans were crushed. We remain so.
The first impression that Lester made back in 1980, when he originated the role of The Young and the Restless’ foremost playboy, Jack Abbott, was a lasting one. His version of the character was the concentrate from which other, lesser cads were made.
At the time of Lester’s demise, Jerry Douglas, who’d played Jack’s father, John, explained his appeal thusly to Soap Opera Digest: “Terry had an edge, where he could play Jack as a heavy and get away with it. You just loved to hate him.”
That, we did. So much so that it almost didn’t come as a surprise when he quit the show in 1989, citing his discontent over being backburnered in favor of the boss’ daughter, Lauralee Bell (then Cricket). But to his credit, Lester apparently never took out his frustration on the young newbie. In fact, she told the Daily News of Los Angeles, “He took me aside and told me that I had nothing to do with the problems” in his contract negotiations. (That’s the two of them below at the 1988 wedding of Christine’s mother and Jack’s father.)
Immediately, Lester joined the cast of NBC’s brilliant Santa Barbara as a replacement for Lane Davies as acerbic Mason Capwell. As he told the Orlando Sentinel at the time, “I feel about unemployment the way a cat feels about a dip in the pool.” Therefore, “I believe in having another job before leaving the last one.”
He didn’t even need to audition. (You can see why below.)
After three years of cracking wise opposite Nancy Lee Grahn (now Alexis, General Hospital), Lester accepted his third soap part, that of As the World Turns’ Royce Keller, a smooth operator harboring a deadly secret: He had an alternate personality that was the kind of lady killer that could’ve taken significant other Emily Stewart’s breath away literally.
Following the 1993 death of the CBS soap’s legendary headwriter, Douglas Marland, who’d created Lester’s complex character, he left the show to see how green the grass was on the other side. Pretty green, it turned out. As late as 1999, he worked regularly in primetime, on series ranging from Diagnosis: Murder to Walker, Texas Ranger.
As word spread of Lester’s passing in 2003, former colleagues were quick to offer up anecdotes that sparkled like the wicked twinkle in his eye. For instance, Young & Restless’ Jess Walton recalled to Soap Opera Digest that she’d had trouble at first figuring out Jill, the mantrap she’d inherited from camptastic Brenda Dickson. “Terry said to me, ‘You have to love being bad,’” Walton said. “That was his Jack, and that was so helpful.”
And memorable. And fun. And painful, in its way, now that we know that the likes of Lester will never come our way again. (You can watch him in action with Dickson below. Lord, they were a hoot, huh?)
While you’re here and already feeling a bit reflective, why not take a look back at the 11,999 episodes that preceded Young & Restless’ momentous 12,000th one with a brand-new photo album jam-packed with classic old pictures.