The world of daytime drama has lost its lion king. William J. Bell, the groundbreaking, taboo-busting mastermind behind CBS' The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful, died April 29 from complications of Alzheimer's disease. He was 78. Bell cocreated both shows with his wife, Lee Phillip Bell, and is credited with writing and producing some 15,000 soap episodes in a four-decade career.
His slow, hypnotic storytelling style was rooted in romance and family, but Bell also embraced controversy with landmark plots about crack babies, AIDS, incest, date rape, euthanasia and homelessness.
Bell was just as audacious off camera: He was a tough and supremely confident showman who paid no mind to focus-group research and tolerated no interference from the CBS "suits." In exchange for that autonomy, he gave the network two wildly popular cash cows: Y&R, now in its 32nd year, has been the No. 1 soap since 1988. The 18-year-old B&B usually ranks No. 2.
Bell also made magic at NBC, where he cocreated Another World with his mentor, Irna Phillips. It ran for 35 years. In addition to his wife of 50 years, Bell leaves behind a suds dynasty. Daughter Lauralee plays Christine on Y&R; eldest son Bill Jr. heads the family's production company, Bell-Phillip Television; and youngest son Brad is the head writer and executive producer of B&B.
Brad tells TV Guide that his pop — a nine-time Emmy winner — was "a warrior, a brave artist who opened up his heart and soul and said, 'Here I am.' He ignored the rules and trends and fads and gave America what it wanted — the tenderness and beauty of the human experience."Find out how Bell's shows and stars fared at the 32nd annual Daytime Emmys — and much more soap-opera scoop — in today's fresh Soaps News column.