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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

James E. Reilly - 1948-2008

There are many legends in daytime history -- Irna Phillips, Agnes Nixon, Bill Bell, Douglas Marland, to name only a few.

But in my mind, there is only one myth - and that is James Reilly.

To many, he was a complete mystery. A head writer who worked his way up at various soaps through the years. From the stories I've heard through the years, he (like any of us who work behind the scenes) had those who loved working with him, and those who didn't. In fact, before 1992, I'm not sure Jim Reilly the "Man" was any more or less important than any of the rest of us.

But 1992 changed everything.

It isn't even necessary to write the kind of obituary that details his successes or failures because they are so well-known and well-documented in the soap community. Ask one person, and he's the man who saved Days of Our Lives; ask another, and he's the man who destroyed daytime. And yet no matter who you ask, very few people actually knew this man. The words "Jim Reilly" became at once a target, a bullseye, and a symbol of a genre savior, all at the same time, as impossible as that sounds. His tale of demonic possession will forever be discussed, dissected and analyzed in daytime history books, and his Secret Room saga still resonates to this day. (Just ask anyone in Llanview.) His return to Days of Our Lives in 2004 with the Salem Serial Killer heralded a storyline just as impressive... as it was monumentally panned in its third act in Melaswen. His work process only hinted at in various interviews over the years, he was known as a recluse - almost the anti-Bill Bell, in the sense that he never knew his actors, or collaborated with them. He never wanted his knowledge of their personal lives to interfere or distract from the tales he was crafting. He brought a new approach to storytelling in daytime that was both innovative and detrimental, brilliant and flawed, beloved and loathed.

The myth of Jim Reilly will forever be discussed and analyzed by soap fans all over the world… and yet so few of us knew the "man". And never will.

Jim Reilly has passed away, and with him, goes so many questions, so much praise, and so many disturbed soap fans who waited to see what wonders he gave birth to next, what new twisted visions spun out of his future endeavors.

I wish I knew this man personally. I wish I was one of the rare few who were close to him - who understood his process - who learned from his innate talent. Somewhere over the last twenty years, Jim Reilly stopped being a man in the daytime world, was never allowed to be a "legend"… but remained this singular myth. He was synonymous with a writing style that proved itself impossible to be ambivalent towards. He incited emotion and (if you'll forgive the pun) passion in as many of his fans as he did his critics.

Say what you will about Jim Reilly, he most definitely will never be forgotten. I will miss this reclusive, uncannily creative talent - the man who changed daytime forever. And at this horribly tragic, sudden, sad time, I hope everybody mourns the loss of this powerful influence to the daytime industry, and sends their prayers and respects to his family, friends, and legions of fans everywhere.

The man may be gone, but his myth will always live on…

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