As fans of television soap operas will tell you, every show has a character whose actions are so morally gray that they are teetering on villainy, but the viewers still cannot help but love the character. For over four decades, Victor Christian Newman, the patriarch of the Newman family in “The Young and the Restless” has walked the thin line between hero and villain, leaving every viewer begrudgingly admiring him through vile actions such as keeping his wife’s lover locked up and neglected in the basement for years, causing his family grief by faking his death, watching a woman tumble to her death, and using underhanded means to acquire or protect his wealth. Love him or hate him, fans of the soap opera share the consensus that Eric Braeden has done a great job bringing Victor Newman to life. In a show that recasts characters often, and sometimes has more than four actors or actresses playing the same character, Eric has become a pillar of stability. However, a recent development in his personal life could see the show lose one of its longest-running actors. Here is a recap of Eric Braeden’s time on “The Young and the Restless” and the reason why his future in the show is uncertain.
Eric’s life, from his childhood in Germany to living the American dream sounds like the plot of a Word War II movie. Eric was born Hans-Jörg Gudegast in Germany in 1941, and unsurprisingly spent his formative years in fear for his life. In an interview, he revealed that several bombs were launched at his village near Kiel, Braeden, during his childhood, destroying buildings and infrastructure, injuring and sometimes killing people until only rubble and hopelessness remained. He was lucky to survive the strikes and continue his education, but had to grow up around all the destruction. When he wasn’t at school, Eric was working on farms to raise money for himself and his family.
After high school, the gods of luck smiled down on him, and he got an opportunity to go to the United States. Although Eric grew up in Nazi Germany around the horrors of the war, he didn’t understand how widespread its impact was until he came to the US and watched movies on World War II. He was also sheltered from the horrors of the Holocaust until he met a Jewish friend at school, who hinted at the pain her people had suffered under the Nazis, prompting Eric to look into the Holocaust. He writes about how learning about his past changed his life in his autobiography “I’ll Be Damned: How My Young and Restless Life Led Me to America’s #1 Daytime Drama.”
Back home in Germany, Eric was a star athlete. He favored sports that involved throwing, particularly javelin, short-putt and discus. He led his team to win the National German Youth Championship in 1958, then when he went to the US, Eric continued to train and participate in track and field events. His first job was in a lab at The University of Texas. He created a network of coaches and scouts, which, together with his skill and passion for track and field, landed him a scholarship at the University of Montana. There, he took a trip down the treacherous Salmon River and made a documentary about the journey, calling it “The Riverbusters”, and then set off for Hollywood in search of a distributor for the film.
Eric’s search for a distributor, and his German roots, led him to his first acting role as Captain Hans Dietrich in “The Rat Patrol.” Initially he was typecast as a German, but he eventually landed a role as an American, prompting him to change his name. However, he didn’t want to abandon his German roots, so he chose Eric, his family name, and Braeden, the name of his village back in Germany. With a few roles in successful films under his belt and a new name, Eric Braeden was set to conquer Hollywood, but had to find his niche first.
Eric stumbled upon his specific calling by accident, when he was cast to play a villain in a daytime television drama. At first he was cautious, since daytime television often confines characters to specific roles, which would regress his progress by typecasting him just when he was escaping his stereotypical casting as the German guy. However, he was building his career, and wasn’t in a position to turn down the position, so took on the role of Victor Newman, albeit begrudgingly. According to his contract, Eric would play Victor for a few weeks., who would be introduced to the fans of “The Young and the Restless” as a cold-hearted villain who cheated on and abused his wife, and was willing to do anything to protect his fortune. His first performance was so impressive that the producers knew he would become a fan favorite, so role was rewritten into the powerful, protective, and flawed yet sensitive and loving man who Eric has embodied for 43 years.
Hero or Villain?
As soon as he was introduced to Daytime television, Eric, through his character Victor Newman, shot straight to the hearts of the fans of daytime television in and beyond the US. The ruthless businessman with many entanglements became an instant fan favorite, who had viewers divided over whether the was a hero for protecting his family, or a villain for his questionable activities. As the debate continued, the show’s ratings hit the roof – Eric’s charisma played a role in the ratings but his character’s escapades played a part as well.
Relationship and marriage drama is premium fodder for the fans of daytime television dramas. In four decades, Victor Newman, the owner of the vast multibillion-dollar Newman Enterprises, has a record of marriage and divorce that puts Ross Geller to shame. Newman married over ten times; he was already married to his first wife, Julia, when he was introduced in 1980. He divorced her the following year after months of suspecting her of infidelity, cheating on her, holding her lover hostage, having a vasectomy behind her back, getting her pregnant anyway when the vasectomy failed, and causing her to lose the child. Three years later, Newman married Nikki Reed before divorcing her and marrying Leanna.
He has been on the trend of marrying, divorcing, remarrying, and pretending to marry over five women in the show, including Ashley Abbott, Diane Jenkins, Meggie McClain and Hope Adams. In between and sometimes during his marriages, Victor took lovers. With his record, one would expect Victor Newman’s family tree to have over ten branches. Oddly, he only has four biological children, and a handful of grandchildren.
Beyond relationship drama, Victor’s health has made for thrilling plot lines, from vasectomies that he hid from his wives and lovers or reversed without telling whichever woman he was dating or married to at the time, to broken limbs from fights. Once, he was in a plane crash but which he had no serious injuries besides a broken leg. Before that, he’d been poisoned by Eve, one of his lovers who was once his secretary, received the antidote in time, but faked his death to stop her attempts to kill him. He had barely recovered from the trauma of the poisoning incident when he was pierced through his groin with a spear gun, rendering him impotent.
Victor proved, once again, that he has nine lives when he survived a near-fatal gunshot in 1996. Years later, he survived a second gunshot to the heart, but needed a heart transplant. Ever the danger magnet, Victor fell off a horse a while later, injuring his head and losing his memory for a while. By now, fans had caught on that he would survive anything. As such, they weren’t shocked when he survived an explosion that had been set to kill him, a stabbing incident in which the knife missed his heart by a whisker, a gunshot wound to the shoulder, a stroke, and a life-threatening auto-immune disease.
As he dodged several attempts on his life, Victor was causing havoc to his personal and business rivals, and anyone who dared to cross the people he cared about. For instance, when he found out that his wife, Julie, was cheating on him, Victor imprisoned her lover in the basement and taunted him by denying him food, and recounting his intimate experiences with her. He denied a family in Kansas justice by helping his son, Adam, cover up a murder, and committed murder himself at least once, but got away with both incidents unscathed. Victor had had people falsely imprisoned, shot at people, and watched Skye fall into a volcano without trying to help her. Despite his devious and sometimes outright criminal activities, Eric Braeden’s portrayal of Victor Newman has fans supporting the character and sometimes justifying his actions.
To my friend KRISTOFF, may he have found peace! pic.twitter.com/OqpiHByaQq
— Eric Braeden (@EBraeden) February 9, 2019
Awards and Nominations
Eric’s powerful portrayal of Victor Newman has earned the actor several nominations; including the Soap Opera Digest Award, the “Daytime Emmy Award,” and the “People’s Choice Award.” Of these, he won several, including the Soap Opera Digest Award for Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role, the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, the People’s Choice Awards for Favorite Male Performer in a Daytime Serial, and the Soap Awards France for Best Villain of the Year. Braeden had his most recent win in 2020, when he was voted the favorite actor on “The Young and the Restless” at the Soap Hub Awards. He was inducted into the “Hollywood Walk of Fame” in 2007.
Eric’s multiple nominations and wins confirm the prediction of the producer who decided to extend his time in the show from a few episodes to, eventually, a lifetime that he would become one of the fans’ favorite characters. Sadly, he’s battling a condition that puts his future in the show uncertain. In April 2023, Eric shared some shocking news with his fans. In a short video on Facebook, the veteran actor revealed that he’d been diagnosed with cancer of the bladder. At the time of the announcement, he’d had surgery and had the cancerous cells in his urethra removed, however, a biopsy revealed that some aggressive cancer cells had remained. Eric is undergoing immunotherapy, but while he remains confident that he’ll beat cancer, the outcome of the treatment is uncertain. For now, he will continue to grace our screens as Victor Newman, but apologizes if he seems a little run-down.
Nothing has kept Victor down in 43 years, and we hope that his luck rubs on Eric Braeden. The actor shared a reassuring picture of himself on the set of “The Young and The Restless.” We wish him all the best in his recovery.