Thread: Brenda Benet
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Old 05-17-2009, 04:33 PM   #17
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This is from the book Soap Opera Babylon (by Jason Bonderoff, published in 1987), in the chapter "Death Wish":

Another daytimer with a death wish, Brenda Benet, wasn't quite so lucky. On April 7, 1982, the Days of Our Lives star was found dead in the guest bathroom of her Los Angeles home. When the police broke down the bathroom door, they found her lying on the rug, clutching a .38 caliber gun. The coroner's report later revealed that she had killed herself by shooting a bullet through her open mouth. The bullet had ricocheted off a tooth and gone right through her head.

The world at large was shocked, but friends and family were hardly surprised. The 37-year-old actress, one of the most tormented souls to ever grace a soap, had been emotionally unstable for some time. Her despondency had grown even worse since the death of her 6-year-old son, Christopher, just thirteen months before. Taking her life was merely the final step of a long, dark journey. By April 1982, when Brenda died, her life had become unbearable. As she saw it, death was the only chance off the merry-go-round.

When Brenda first came to Hollywood, nobody could have predicted such a tragic end for her. Beautiful and talented, she seemed destined for stardom, and Hollywood's most eligible bachelors flocked around her. In short order, she married Paul Peterson, who had starred on The Donna Reed Show, but later divorced him and wed another actor, Bill Bixby. While Bill scored major successes with The Courtship of Eddie's Father and The Incredible Hulk, Brenda seemed content to stay on the sidelines and let her career slide. She was particularly devoted to their young son, Christopher, and wasn't anxious to leave him. But when her 7-year marriage to Bixby fell by the wayside in the summer of 1979, Brenda accepted the role of Lee Carmichael on Days of Our Lives.

Nevertheless, Christopher remained her first priority. "Being a mother is the most challenging thing I've ever done," she said. "Christopher's so bright and sensitive - he's the joy of my life. I've never known anyone like him."

The contrast between Brenda, the off-screen devoted mother and on-screen dragon lady was startling indeed. Sometimes, it seemed, Brenda herself had a hard time deciding who she really was. From the moment she made her first entrance on Days of Our Lives, fans were enthralled with her villainous TV character, who was carnal and conniving, and a little of Lee Carmichael began to rub off on Brenda. Backstage, according to reports, Brenda began to act out a very parallel script. She fought bitterly with one castmate and had an adulterous affair with another. She earned a reputation for being high-strung and temperamental, although no one ever questioned her talent. Brenda dominated every scene she was in.

Meanwhile, her private life was becoming a real soap opera, too. Her bitter divorce from Bill Bixby made banner headlines. Brenda petitioned the court to put out a restraining order on her soon-to-be ex-husband, preventing him from claiming any of their community property. She claimed that he wanted to remove the furniture from their luxurious home in the Mandeville Canyon section of Los Angeles. Since the separation, Bixby divided his time between a plush one-bedroom apartment at Universal Studios, where he filmed The Incredible Hulk, and a fully furnished yacht which he kept anchored at a nearby marina. According to Brenda, he was livinng as well, if not better, than she and Christopher were, and had no need to take any of the furniture in the Mandeville Canyon house. She told the court, "He is an extremely well-paid entertainer who could well afford to rent furniture."

Despite their well-published disputes, both parents were united on one thing - their love for their son. Brenda was granted custody of the boy, but Bill remained close to him, too. Bill was adamant about one thing - that his son not be allowed to watch any episodes of The Incredible Hulk. He worried that if Christopher saw him transform every week from mild-mannered David Bruce Banner into his Hulk persona - a gargantuan, ugly, green monster - it might give him nightmares.

However, a much more devastating scenario lay in store than anyone could have foreseen. The most unexpected nightmare of all occured in March 1981 when Brenda decided to take Christopher on a harmless camping trip in the Sierra Mountains. While on the trip, Christopher, who was suffering from a cold, developed respiratory problems and had to be rushed to a hospital. The nearest one was several miles away. By the time Christopher arrived there, his breathing had become so labored that doctors had to perform an emergency tracheotomy. Often, this is an uncomplicated procedure, but during the operation, Christopher went into cardiac arrest and died.

Afterward, Brenda was numbed. Outwardly, she refused to let herself grieve, but inwardly she was tortured by the loss of the one human being she loved most in the world. She tried to lose herself in work, and later in a passionate love affair, but neither could give her the inner peace she so desperately needed. After Christopher's death, Brenda returned to Days of Our Lives very quickly - too quickly perhaps - and tried to go on as if nothing had happened. On the surface, she seemed so calm and accepting. She stunned everyone by giving interviews to the press, and whenever Brenda met with reporters, she was eager to speak about her son. She'd go on at length about Christopher's passing and about how grateful she was for all the letters of support and encouragement she'd received.

For a time, Brenda seemed almost manic. She embarked on at least one unfortunate romance (with a black soap star) and may have been involved in other casual relationships, too. March 1982 was a particularly horrible time for her - the first anniversary of Christopher's passing. It hit her very hard, and friends later conjectured that this was the turning point for her on the road to self-destruction. She now went into an ever deeper depression that led directly to her suicide a month later. Her behavior near the end was very strange - almost frighteningly calm. The last week of her life Brenda made plans with two castmates to attend a party (which, of course, she never attended) and just a few days before her death, she phoned one of her favorite fan magazine editors to thank her profusely for a recent article. In retrospect, the call was obviously a farewell gesture.

According to the police report, on the day of her death, Brenda had a violent argument with a lover, then began drinking about noon and ultimately decided to kill herself. She carried out her final act, lying down on a soft rug in the bathroom with a lighted candle beside her. The thirty-eight had been in her possession for some time. She had bought it for protection after receiving threatening notes from angry fans who were upset that her TV character, Lee Carmichael, had broken up the marriage of Doug and Julie Williams, the show's #1 couple.

Brenda's death sent shock waves through the Days of Our Lives cast. Lanna Saunders, who played Marie Horton, and her husband, actor Larry Pressman, held a memorial service at their home for the actress' friends and colleagues, who came to share their grief, their disbelief and, most of all, their memories of Brenda. One castmate, who seemed to speak for everyone, noted, "If there really is a hereafter, at least Brenda and Christopher are togehter now - that's all she really wanted."
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