Written by: Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons
Two days ago, I wrote about a tribute to Kristoff St. John, an actor best known for his role of Neil Winters in the long-running soap opera The Young and The Restless as well as a host of movies, including A Christmas Cruise and Trois 2: Pandora’s Box.
If you read the piece, you may or may not have noticed something: I didn’t mention a cause of death. I didn’t feel it was my job to say how he died. All I wanted to do was talk about what a great actor St. John was, what a loss it was to his fans, and how I wish I had reached out to him when he had a depressive episode.
I wish other outlets had shown my restraint.
Hours after he died, well-meaning people tweeted how he suffered, how depression is terrible, and people need to reach out when they’re depressed.
They were right on all counts.
But here’s the deal: we don’t know the cause of St. John’s death yet.
So, right as those tweets were, they were wrong to be directing them towards St. John.
In this era of Fake News, it’s essential to be thorough. I try to triple-check sources and make sure I can back up what I’m saying. The sources I try to use are impartial.
So does that mean I wouldn’t use Breitbart or Common Dreams as sources?
I’m not saying all of this to declare that I’m better than anyone. I’m just saying that I know words might unintentionally cause pain, so to speculate about the cause of St. John’s death seems ill-advised and in poor taste.
Ultimately I know I don’t have any control over how people will respond to my writing, but I owe it to myself to do the best job I can to write the story as clearly and as thoroughly as I’m able. God knows I’ve made mistakes in my life and said things I’ve later regretted. I’m a continual work in progress. But in writing, I always try for the truth.
I wish I could say the same for everyone else. We live in an age of clickbait and quick headlines, so the more scandalous the headline is, the more likely one would be to check it out.
Of course, this isn’t anything new. When Erin Moran died in 2017, her co-star (and former boyfriend) Scott Baio went on WABC and said: “I’m OK, a little shocked but not completely shocked that this happened. My thing is, I feel bad because her whole life, she was troubled, could never find what made her happy and content. For me, you do drugs or drink, you’re gonna die. I’m sorry if that’s cold, but God gave you a brain, gave you the will to live and thrive and you gotta take care of yourself.”
Well, he was right about one thing: it was a cold thing to say.
Moran had cancer and her husband released the cause of death after Baio’s statement. Baio became very defensive, saying on his Facebook page: “I was asked ONLY about Erin’s troubled past due to drug & alcohol abuse. I was still upset and said I felt that living that kind of a lifestyle will catch up with you and nothing good would come of it. THIS WAS BEFORE THE CAUSE OF DEATH WAS ANNOUNCED STATING STAGE 4 CANCER.”
Scott, we get it. But here’s the deal: You could’ve not answered the question.
I was shocked like many when Robin Williams killed himself in 2014. Hours after his death, Dr. Drew Pinsky went on his show and speculated it must’ve been a “biological disorder” Williams had, and then speculated Williams was using drugs again. Never mind Dr. Drew never had Williams as a patient. Never mind that we had no idea if Williams was having mental issues. Dr. Drew is a doctor who works with famous people, so everyone figured he must be right!
Williams was suffering from Lewy Body Dementia, a disease that does affect the brain biologically. But until a toxicology/cause of death report was issued, why speculate on why Williams killed himself?
All I’m saying here is, until we know for sure how Kristoff St. John died, we shouldn’t play armchair therapists and speculate about what happened.