Jeanne Cooper, soap actress and mother of Corbin Bernsen, dies at 84

By Lynn Elber
Associated Press

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In this June 8, 2008 file photo, Jeanne Cooper poses with her award for outstanding lead actress in a drama series for her work on The Young and the Restless" at the 35th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. CBS says soap opera star Cooper has died. She was 84. Cooper played grande dame Katherine Chancellor on CBS' "The Young and the Restless" for nearly four decades. (AP Photo/Dan Steinberg)

LOS ANGELES: Jeanne Cooper, the enduring soap opera star who played grande dame Katherine Chancellor for nearly four decades on The Young and the Restless, has died. She was 84.

Cooper died Wednesday morning in her sleep, her son the actor Corbin Bernsen wrote on Facebook. The family confirmed the death to CBS, according to a network spokeswoman.

“One of the last great broads in our business — Jeanne Cooper, Mom — is now stirring up trouble in great beyond,” her family said in a statement.

Bernsen tweeted April 12 that his mother faced an “uphill battle” for an undisclosed illness. In subsequent days he wrote of her gradual improvement and said that she’d been taken off breathing equipment.

In a Facebook posting April 17, Bernsen said his mother cursed several times, “showing me that she’s becoming her old self, not thrilled about the situation, and ready to get out of the hospital and shake up the world.”

On Wednesday he wrote that she remained a fighter until the end: “She has been a blaze her entire life, that beacon, that boxer I spoke of earlier. She went the full twelve rounds and by unanimous decision … won!”

Cooper joined the daytime serial six months after its March 1973 debut. The role earned her 11 Daytime Emmy nominations and a trophy in 2008. As the years passed, Cooper brushed aside thoughts of saying goodbye to the show and its fictional Wisconsin town of Genoa City.

“What would I do? I’m no good at crocheting. My fingers would bleed,” she told the Associated Press as she turned 83.

Cooper was born in the California town of Taft in 1928. Her professional career began with the 1953 film The Redhead from Wyoming starring Maureen O’Hara. Other film credits include 1968’s The Boston Strangler with Tony Curtis and 1967’s Tony Rome with Frank Sinatra.

She had a parallel career in TV, with shows including The Adventures of Kit Carson in 1953 and The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse in 1954 and Bracken’s World in 1969-70.

In a recurring role on L.A. Law, she played the mother to Bernsen’s character, Arnie. Bernsen later joined his mother on her series, making several appearances as a priest, Father Todd. (Bernsen has become a familiar face around Akron in recent years, directing two movies locally: 25 Hill, about the Soap Box Derby, and 3 Day Test.)

But it was her role on The Young and the Restless that made her a TV star intimately familiar to viewers.

In 1984, Cooper’s real-life facelift was televised on the show as her character underwent the surgery at the same time, and had no regrets about it.

“It opened up reconstructive surgery for so many people, youngsters getting things done,” she said. “To this day, people will come up to me and say, ‘Thank you so much for doing that. My mom or I had something done, and not just cosmetic surgery.’ That was an incredible experience in my life.”

Cooper’s 30-year marriage to Harry Bernsen ended in divorce. The couple have three children, Corbin, Caren and Collin, and eight grandchildren.

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