LAKE ARROWHEAD (CBS) — In 1986, Thom Bierdz — the actor who plays Phillip Chancellor on “The Young and the Restless — was on top of the world.
He was on the cover of every soap magazine, incredibly popular, beloved by the fans.
Three years later, at the peak of his career, unspeakable real-life tragedy occurred. His brother, Troy, murdered their mother, Phyllis, in his hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Bierdz recently sat down with CBS2 anchor Pat Harvey — at his “tree house,” a very secluded mountain getaway in Lake Arrowhead, hours away from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood. They talked for hours about his long journey — a journey that also includes forgiving his brother.
“I’ve dealt with some horrible stuff,” says Bierdz.
Younger brother Troy Bierdz murdered their mother in her kitchen, hitting her with a baseball bat. Thom’s brother was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. It’s all detailed in his harrowing book, “Forgiving Troy.”
His brother wasn’t properly diagnosed for years. He’s currently in prison for the murder. “I was shocked that it happened. I was shocked.” Thom and his siblings were caught off guard. They knew he had problems but nothing could have prepared them for the murder. “I learned later how much he had threatened her. And how much help she tried to get him.”
Getting to a point of forgiveness, obviously, wasn’t easy. “I was angry at my brother for killing. And I was mad at my mother for dying. I knew, there had to be a better picture.”
And that bigger picture, Harvey discovers is in his canvas. For eight years, Bierdz has become a successful artist. While he still acts (Phillip is currently in Australia tending to a busted knee), it’s painting that has become his main occupation and his saving grace. Nature, animals, portraits, straight males portrayed as fictionalized gay couples, his beloved dog — he captures them all in vivid, vibrant colors.
“Painting makes me feel good. I do project after project. It connects me to the now. Now, I’m not too horrified of the past or anxious about the future. That’s what puts me in a good place.”
It took more than 20 years to write “Forgiving Troy.” In the book, he shares feelings of guilt, shame, loneliness. The parts about learning to forgive are especially poignant and moving. “I wanted to show had bad things could go and how good things can go from that.”
For siblings fighting over petty slights, he’s hoping the book can teach people positive messages. And he thinks people can relate, even if they haven’t had unspeakable family tragedy like his. “They get what it’s like to be siblings at odds. They get how it’s like to get mental illness in the family, and how to deal with that. They get what’s it’s like to run away from something.”
Bottom line, he doesn’t want to see people in the kind of pain he’s had to overcome. “My intention is to help people. If I can do that, if I can help people … I love that.”
For more information about “Forgiving Troy,” Thom’s acting career and his art, go to his website, ThomBierdz.com. He is also president of the American Art Awards, an organization that helps get artists discovered and introduced to galleries. Click here for more info about AmericanArtAwards.com. You can also follow him on twitter @ThomBierdz or friend him on Facebook, Thom Bierdz and Thom Bierdz II.