Thursday, December 1, 2011

World AIDS Day Tribute: Christopher Bernau (1940-1989) -- 'Dark Shadows,' 'Guiding Light'

On World AIDS Day we pay tribute to some of the actors from the soap opera community who lost their lives to the disease.

Christopher Bernau was born in Santa Barbara on June 2, 1940. He died of a heart attack brought on by complications from AIDS on June 14, 1989 in New York City at age 49.

Bernau grew up in Santa Barbara, the only child of a physiotherapist. After some high school plays, he earned a drama degree at UC Santa Barbara.

His big break came with a role in New York Shakespeare Festival's production of "Antony and Cleopatra" in 1962. He continued in that role until 1964, when he toured nationally in the production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

Bernau was a consummate stage actor whose Broadway work included "The Boys in the Band."

His first soap role was as Philip Todd on Dark Shadows in 1969. Philip and his wife, Megan (Marie Wallace) owned a spooky antique shop in Collinsport and served as foster parents to the Leviathan child who grew up to be Jeb Hawkes. Chris left the show in 1970.

He joined the cast of Guiding Light in 1977 as Alan Spaulding and played the role for most of the next 11 years.

Alan was involved with a number of leading ladies over the years including Elvera Roussel, who played Hope Bauer.

One magazine at the time called them the sexiest couple on all soaps. The couple married in May 1980 after falling in love while being stranded on a deserted island the year before. They would divorce in 1983.

Bernau continued to work on GUIDING LIGHT for as long as he could after being diagnosed with AIDS.

Two weeks after his death in 1989 GUIDING LIGHT cast members held a memorial service for Bernau in Manhattan.

He came in at No. 19 on our 50 Greatest Soap Actors of All-Time list in 2010.

- CLASSIC CLIPS: Chris Bernau
- FLASHBACK: Chris Bernau 1981
- 50 Greatest Soap Actors: #19 Chris Bernau


  1. He's the one that set the standard of the character of Alan. The other actors had to follow what Chris created and look at the other actors he played along in such a strong cast. There was nothing like to have Chris and Beverlee in scenes together...they were GRRRRR, funny together and loving just like the chemistry between Ron & Marj. I can't wait for GL on Soap Classics...sigh.

  2. I had know I idea that Chris' death was AIDS related? What a shocker!

  3. Thank you for acknowledging he died of AIDS.

    It is important for our history to be remembered. And remembered correctly.

    IMDB and other places just say he died of a heart attack.

    In Kim Zimmer's book, she wrote that she heard he contracted some tropical bug and that's why he died.

    I lost a lot of respect for Zimmer when she wrote that. The entire GL cast knew it was AIDS. I understand that she might not have wanted to out him as having died of AIDS, but to make up a tropical disease story was ridiculous. Would have prefered she not address the cause of his death at all than to perpetuate the idea he died of something other than AIDS.

    1. You're right. KZ did write that. Thank you for reinforcing the proper acknowledgement. It seems I lose more respect for Kim Zimmer by the day, too. She seems to think that everything would shock everyone else, though never her, and that she is the only larger than life personality that exists, which is most certainly not true.

  4. With all due respect to Daniel Pilon and Ron Raines, for me Bernau was the one and only Alan Spaulding... Our friend, Mary Kay Adams (who play GL's India) did the AIDS Cycle challenge from San Fran to LA and wore his name on her jersey. He touched a lot of people with his talent and kindness.

  5. RIP, Chris! We Love You So Very Much!

    Brian :-)

    1. He was the ultimate Alan Spaulding and I had a huge crush on him even as a little girl in the 70s!

  6. I remember reading somewhere that he had Lyme disease and that was what killed him. It was before they wanted to admit he had AIDS.

  7. Chris is my all-time favorite soap actor and was responsible for me getting hooked on Guiding Light...when I was six years old. He was and always will be awesome.

  8. It's 6am in Jersey City, New Jersey as this 62-year-old soap viewer of 60s and 70s Another World, The Doctors and The Guiding Light watch youtube clips of my favorite actors and characters. My number 1 man, of course, was the delightfully manipulative Alan Spaulding. My number 2 man, David O'Brien aka Steve 'the snake in the grass' Aldrich also died of AIDS complications the same day as Bernau, June 14, 1989. I cried all that day and I am crying right now as I remember two of the best actors to grace the soap universe.

  9. Alan Spaulding was my favorite soap character as well. I just wish CB could have lived to finish it out until the end and him and "Hope" could have rode off into the island sunset together! It had to be sad to have to leave the show to be sick and die from a nasty disease that can now be managed and life prolonged. Chris Bernau was awesome.