Credit: John Paschal/JPI, Howard Wise/JPI (2), CBS/Courtesy of the Everett Collection (2)

The legend began on February 8, 1980.

To think… Victor Newman, a character whose name has become synonymous with The Young and the Restless, was only intended to stick around for a few months. And Eric Braeden almost didn’t accept the role for which he will always be best known.

But, he told CBS News in 2020, “I was playing tennis with Dabney Coleman,” who’s probably best known as the boss from hell in 9 to 5. “He said, ‘Do it. You’ll love it.’”

Braeden did, and eventually, indeed he did love it. Not only that, but thanks to the duality with which late, great headwriter William J. Bell imbued Victor, he quickly became not just a villain that the audience hated but an anti-hero that they loved to hate. “He is on one hand tough, ruthless,” his portrayer told CBS. “But he’s also vulnerable. He wants to be loved, and he wants to love, but he can’t really.”

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That push/pull between the opposing forces within Victor has kept Young & Restless viewers hooked for more than four decades now. (You can watch his interview in full below.)

A Rough Start

Prior to joining the CBS soap, the German-born Hans-Jörg Gudegast had already made quite a name for himself in Hollywood, starring in primetime series (such as The Rat Patrol from 1966-68) and movies (like 1970’s Colossus: The Forbin Project, the first on which he adopted his stage name). And his transition to The Young and the Restless was… let’s say, not smooth.

“I hated it the first three months,” he told the Archive of American Television in 2016, “because of the enormous speed [and because] what [was] endemic in daytime television [was] a lack of respect for the medium by everyone who’s involved with it except for Bill Bell.”

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Braeden couldn’t understand the atmosphere into which he’d been plunged. It was hard work about which it felt like no one cared. “I wanted out after three months,” he said. And after Bell convinced him to sign on for a full year, the future Emmy winner “was so depressed, I said, ‘I gotta get out of here.’” (You can watch the interview in full below.)

The Turning Point

Thankfully, a change came to The Young and the Restless in the form of a new producer: Wes Kenney. “He’s the reason I stayed on that show,” said Braeden. “When I went to Wes and said, ‘This doesn’t make any sense; how about changing it?’ he said, ‘Damn right.’ He trusted my instincts.”

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So did Kenney’s successor, Edward J. Scott (who, as you may know, is married to Nikki’s portrayer, Melody Thomas Scott, and now a producer at sister show The Bold and the Beautiful). The rest, as they say, is history.

Part of Braeden’s colorful past as Victor is highlighted in the clip package below, compiled on the occasion of his 40th anniversary in 2020.

However, a more detailed exploration of Braeden’s incredible run as the Black Knight is included in the photo gallery below. It revisits the euphoric highs and devastating lows of Victor’s life in Genoa City, from his arrival all those years ago… until today.

Video: YouTube/CBS News, Archive of American Television, CBS