Out artist and actor delves into painful family history in new book

With an autobiography on the shelves, a thriving art career and the resurrection of his soap-acting career, Thom Bierdz is back in the spotlight.

It’s been a difficult journey for the out actor, who rose to fame playing Phillip Chancellor 3rd on “The Young and the Restless” from 1986-89. Shortly after his character was killed off the daytime drama, his youngest brother, Troy, who was later diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, beat their mother to death with a baseball bat.

Bierdz, now 48, withdrew from the public eye, trying to make sense of what happened and, later, launching a career as an artist. He pieces together the events leading up to his mother’s murder and the aftermath in his autobiography, “Forgiving Troy: A True Story of Murder, Mental Illness and Recovery.” Bierdz also allowed himself to be filmed visiting his brother, who is serving a life sentence in prison, for a documentary based on the issues he grapples with in the book.

Bierdz said the process of filming the documentary wasn’t nearly as hard as it was to write the book.

“The documentary, which is still in progress after all these years, is in somebody else’s hands. That didn’t require nearly as much work. For me, the book was all mine and that was very, very difficult. It still is.

“It just got a five-star review on Amazon and there are some things in the book that are very embarrassing. And I hate for people to take it out of context, but this reviewer took it out of context and they posted the most embarrassing thing in the book in their review. But the truth is, I put it in the book so it’s OK. The reason that I did put everything in the book is because I wanted people to understand that this book is totally honest. There’s something that happens in the middle of the book that is an extraordinary thing and I needed people to believe that the author was telling the truth. So that’s why I came so clean in it.”

For Bierdz, the process of trying to figure out what drove his brother to commit such a heinous act had the unexpected benefit of allowing him to better understand himself.

“Even though my brother was a paranoid schizophrenic who killed our mother, and I didn’t feel we had anything in common at all because he was so violent, things start to add up and I realize my brother and I have a lot in common. In the book I talk about my brain, my mind, my borderline paranoia, my anxiety, and I identify probably more so with my brother than anyone else can.

“In doing that, I realized sometimes that my brain just stops and fixates. And the canvas is the way that I found to empty my brain so that I can operate normally. So that is my great passion that brings me into the moment. It has been cathartic, unintentionally, and a lot of my expressionistic paintings are definitely my emotion purging out of my brain. And once it’s on the canvas, I found I can just move on with my life.”

So far, the reaction to “Forgiving Troy” has been positive, which doesn’t surprise Bierdz.

“It’s really just honest facts,” he said of the book’s appeal. “So I can’t take credit for delivering a story like this. I was smart enough to know that, when presented in an articulate manner, people would understand the scope and they would embrace it. So going through it, I felt an obligation to share such a bigger-than-life experience. So I’m not surprised at all that people like it so much. But it is not where I should be. It’s still a process. I want this to be a beautiful movie and I don’t have producers yet. I don’t have the connections to get it to A-list Hollywood. I’ve tried and I can’t do it. So there’s still this strife when I think about it.”

What was surprising for Bierdz was how many people have had similar experiences in their lives.

“I thought that this story would be very un-relatable, but the people that read it, they totally get elements of their family,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be as extreme, but the themes of betrayal and forgiveness everybody identifies as universal. So many people have relatives that are mentally ill or bipolar. I get e-mails constantly thanking me for shedding light on their lives.”

Bierdz’s career as an actor was on the rise at the time of his mother’s murder, but he couldn’t focus on it.

“I spent a lot of time, and I still do, trying to contact life after death. So I read all kinds of books on that. I investigated all kinds of psychics — most of which I didn’t find valid at all. My priority became a spiritual quest instead of my Hollywood career.”

It also bears mentioning that Bierdz wasn’t out during his initial run on “The Young and the Restless.” But he recently returned to the show and the character that made him famous. The character of Phillip Chancellor 3rd was reintroduced to the show 20 years after he was written off. In true soap-opera fashion, it turned out he faked his death because he was gay and felt he would not have been accepted.

“It’s definitely full circle because now I’m an out gay man and an out gay actor on a soap opera that, in 38 years, hasn’t dealt with that topic until recently,” Bierdz said of his return to soaps. “I feel really good that the thing that I was so self-conscious about back then — being gay and being found out — is the thing that I’m broadcasting most. The soap has caught up with that and they see the potential. They like the fact that I’m an out gay actor and that it’s a gay character. So times have shifted and it’s really good for me.”

Bierdz said he hopes his comeback will also lead to acting work outside the world of soap operas, as well as garner more attention for his art.

“As far as TV, I don’t know how much they will use me. I’m not under contract so it’s kind of up to them. Now that I’m back on the show, I’ve gotten a lot of my confidence back. I really want to explore other avenues. Somebody told me that they’re going to have a gay brother on “The Good Wife.” So when my shows start to air, I want to get them to the casting person and be considered for that.

“The most important thing to me is being an artist. I’ve got a lot of art shows coming up. But I think it’s like one in 22,000 artists make a living at it and I do make a living at it. I realize I’m helped by that because of the attention and the amount of fame that I’ve had. I definitely feel that acting is going to help my art career so I’m going to do that.”

“Forgiving Troy: A True Story of Murder, Mental Illness and Recovery” is in stores now. For more information on Bierdz, visit www.thombierdz.com.

Larry Nichols can be reached at [email protected].