It was one year ago today that we said goodbye to the great Jeanne Cooper, longtime star of CBS's The Young and the Restless and arguably the most admired and beloved performer in the daytime drama business. In the final days of Cooper's life, her son, actor Corbin Bernsen, took to Facebook to keep us in the loop on her condition, delivering a startlingly emotional, no-holds-barred journal that Cooper's friends, co-stars and fans deeply appreciated. He's still carrying the torch. On June 19, Bernsen will return to his mom's soap as Father Todd Williams when tragedy, once again, strikes Genoa City. The actor spoke with TV Guide Magazine about this year of loss and grief.
TV Guide Magazine: The first anniversary of a death can dredge up so many feelings. How are you doing one year later?
Bernsen: I can't lie. It's really tough. This year has been very challenging, enlightening and exhausting — especially hard in these last few days leading up to the anniversary. My mom was the center of my support system, that place I always went to talk things through, whether I was feeling joy or fear. She was always there with a huge, open heart and the best advice. [Laughs] She could quickly cut through all of your bulls--t! She knew the difference between real concerns and imagined ones, and she had this wonderful healing presence. Her touch literally made me feel better. And, God, how I could use some of that right now! Twelve months later, I'm still grieving for her. This is my year of turning 60. My series, Psych, ended after eight years, which was my stability. I could really use her help going into this third act of my life.
TV Guide Magazine: Hey, in the theater, the third act is always the best! That's where the big stuff happens. There was no greater example of that than your mom.
Bernsen: It's true. She lived every day with tremendous passion, throwing herself fully into everything. She did nothing half-assed. That's why her death, itself, was a relief. She had been such a huge life force and to see her decline, to see her in the hospital with all those tubes just felt so wrong and barbaric. So when she was released from all the pain and the fear and the gridlocks of life, my brother and sister and I were very comforted. In fact, there was this extraordinary feeling of lightness when she left us. We knew it was right and it was best, but as the year wore on things started to get rough. It wasn't on the big occasions like Mother's Day or Christmas or her birthday. It was those moments when you just need a mom.
TV Guide Magazine: Does it help to stay connected to Y&R?
Bernsen: It really does. I got a wonderful note from [Y&R associate producer] Josh O'Connell telling me that the special tribute episode the show did for my mom has been nominated for a Daytime Emmy, and that just feels so incredible! So does going back once again to play Father Todd. This time I'm doing four episodes, working with Doug Davidson [Paul] and Lauralee Bell [Christine], which my mom would have loved. She adored them. I really like keeping this link to the show, because it's also a link to my mom's fans. That's why I shared so much about her final days on Facebook. I have friends who don't understand why I chose to be so candid, so vulnerable, but I did it for the fans.
TV Guide Magazine: Seriously, you got crap for that?
Bernsen: People have said, "It's not healthy" and "Why are you sharing so much?" But it just felt right and so natural. The fans were so important to my mother. [Laughs] Maybe they were a little too important, because it sometimes got a little bizarre and she was like the lady in Sunset Boulevard. But it's what made her happy. It's what kept her away from the darker side of her soul. Michael, you knew her well and knew all the stuff that was going on with her back in those years where she probably should have sought some help and didn't.
TV Guide Magazine: So true. Jeanne Cooper did not want shrinks or a 12-step support group.
Bernsen: The fans were her support group! She always turned to them and to her work to get her through the day. For quite a while there, she dealt with her problems through drink, but she got through that all on her own after that one stint at Saint John's Hospital. Beyond that, no AA meetings, no therapy, nothing. She just threw herself into survival and came out the other end.
TV Guide Magazine: That lady was such a world-class survivor it felt like we'd always have her with us. It's still hard to believe she's gone.
Bernsen: After she started her decline there was a point where she actually rallied and was well enough to leave the hospital and go home. That didn't last more than a couple of days and she had to go back, but during that time it really felt like she'd pull through. I wasn't sure if she'd ever be able to drive again and do stuff like that but I was certain she'd get well enough to come back to Y&R and play Katherine Chancellor. But, looking back, I think she knew that wasn't going to happen. It sure seems that way when you look at her last episode on Y&R — that final scene on the staircase. But that's not the image of her that I keep in my heart and in my mind. I always choose to remember the moment that was the best of Jeanne Cooper — those photos where she's in that wild dress triumphantly hoisting up the Emmy the night she finally won the damn thing. She was so proud, so happy.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you feel she's still with you on a spiritual level?
Bernsen: Oh, yeah. I went to the beach the other day and had a real conversation with her. I sat on a bench overlooking the water — remembering the fond days of my youth when she'd take us kids to the ocean — and I could hear her voice. That voice! Was it her? Was it God? Was it my imagination? I don't know, but we had a real talk. A talk about my letting go. I've been working with a holistic specialist, trying to bring my body into balance, and part of making that happen is putting my mom's death into a healthier perspective. I really need to let her go, let her go into the infinite. I can't keep hanging onto this rope that connects us. That doesn't mean I can't call on her when I need her. She will always be with me. But it's time for us both to move on. It won't be easy, but I'm looking forward to breaking on through. It's what she would have wanted.