There was one particular actor who meant the world to Live! with Kelly and Ryan host Kelly Ripa: after all, she had worked with him on All My Children. So when news of this star’s sudden death spread in March, 2020, the TV presenter was devastated. And she took to the airwaves to share her grief.
That actor was John Callahan, who suffered a stroke early in the morning of March 27. California emergency personnel rushed the screen star to the Eisenhower Medical Center and did everything they could to revive him, including putting him on life support. Despite their best efforts, however, Callahan passed away in the early hours of the following day.
At just 66 years old, Callahan left the world far too soon. But throughout his life, he nevertheless touched many people’s lives. To his colleagues, he was known as a nurturing presence. To his former partner Eva LaRue, he was a friend who was “bigger than life.” To his daughter Kaya, he was simply “Dad.”
But for most people, Callahan was known by another name: Edmund Grey. Introduced into All My Children in 1992, the dashing novelist would become the actor’s best-known creation. And in the 13 years that Callahan would portray Grey on TV, the actor received four Soap Opera Digest Award nominations, one of which led to a win in 1998.
However, things could have been oh-so-different for the actor had he continued with his first career plan. Initially, Callahan had dreams of becoming an attorney, even going so far as to move from New York to California to study law. But like many individuals who come to the West Coast, the student soon found himself drawn to entertainment.
After a short stint working in a nightclub to pay his tuition, Callahan decided to switch out law for acting. And yet, it would take a while for casting directors to catch on to his talents. Indeed, it wouldn’t be until age 29 that Callahan received his first acting credit for a small part in TV series Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
From there on, the actor began building up his small-screen résumé with a series of spots on shows like Fantasy Island. In 1984 he played the recurring part of Leo Russell on General Hospital before finding starring roles in the likes of Falcon Crest and Santa Barbara. By the time he joined All My Children, Callahan was already familiar to millions of soap opera fans.
Throughout the next 13 years, Callahan worked with a number of emerging actors who would become stars in their own right. Before her leading role in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sarah Michelle Gellar got her big break as villainess Kendall Hart. And despite her character’s propensity for coldness, Gellar formed a warm bond with Callahan during her two-year stint on the show.
Even greater than the bond Callahan had with Gellar, though, was the one he shared with co-star LaRue. Cast as his onscreen love interest Dr. Maria Santos, LaRue and Callahan shared a blazing romance in real life. In 1996 the couple tied the knot before welcoming their daughter Kaya into the world five years later.
Truly, Callahan had a deep impact on the stars he met on the show. And through it all the actor made friendships that would outlast his time as Edmund Grey. Out of all the individuals he befriended, however, there is one name that sticks out thanks to her current on-screen ubiquity: Kelly Ripa.
It’s hard to imagine it today keeping in mind her wide-ranging television roles, but Ripa got her big break on All My Children. Having joined the show in 1990, Ripa already had two years more experience than Callahan when he joined the cast. However, at only 20 years of age, the actress had a lot to learn about the business.
With only a handful of theater credits to her name, Ripa was still honing her craft as an actress upon her hiring. “I just cringe when I see those early shows,” the host confessed to Canadian daily newspaper The Star in 2012. “Thank God they were all so generous and let me learn on the job, because I learned a lot.”
But despite her negative opinions on her own acting, Ripa nevertheless became one of the show’s biggest draws. Cast as Hayley Vaughan, the star won over hearts thanks to her character’s dogged determination and outsider status. “Audiences loved her because she was an underdog,” she asserted.
Thanks to Vaughan’s popularity, Ripa would continue on the show for another 12 years. In that time, she would earn two Daytime Emmy nominations as well as three Soap Opera Digest Award wins. Moreover, it would grant Ripa incredible new career opportunities – including a co-hosting spot on Live! with Regis and Kelly in 2001.
In both Ripa’s personal and professional life, it was clear that All My Children played a vital part. Indeed, it was on the set that the presenter met her husband Mark Consuelos, who played her on-screen flame Mateo Santos. Together since 1996, the pair are still madly in love to this day.
Even though Ripa was starting a family of her own, it was clear that she saw her co-stars as being a part of it. And this was especially true of Callahan and LaRue. In fact, when Ripa gave birth to her first child, Michael, in 1997 she chose LaRue as his godmother.
Despite the closeness of her personal and professional bonds, however, Ripa found herself pulling away from the soap. After becoming a part of Live!…, the actress made fewer and fewer appearances as Hayley Vaughan. With hosting taking ever-increasing priority, Ripa left All My Children in 2002.
Callahan and LaRue, too, would make a similar break from the show just three years later in 2005. But this wouldn’t be the only split that the pair would make that year. After nine years of marriage, the two soap stars decided to call time on their marriage and separated amicably.
In the intervening years, Ripa remained a fixture on Live!…. However, she made a special appearance on All My Children in 2010. And when the soap was cancelled in 2011, Ripa publicly grieved the loss of this surrogate unit. “All My Children was more than a job,” entertainment news website ET quoted her as saying, “it was my family.”
For his part, Callahan made major changes to his life once his stint on the soap was over. After saying goodbye to Edmund Grey, Callahan moved from the East Coast to California in order to be closer to Kaya. There, he began starring in another soap opera, Days of Our Lives, as Dr. Richard Baker.
As we’ve seen, it would be on the West Coast that Callahan would live out his final years. More than a decade after first calling the blue skies of the Golden State his home, the soap star suffered the fatal stroke in his Palm Desert abode. By all accounts, it was a death that few who knew Callahan could have seen coming.
The day after Callahan’s death, the Daytime Emmys posted the shocking news on its Twitter page. “We’re devastated to share that John Callahan passed away earlier today,” the institution announced to its followers. “Sending our deepest condolences to Eva LaRue and all his loved ones.”
As soon as Callahan’s death was announced, many of his All My Children colleagues stepped in to speak about how much the star meant to them. Leading the way was Gellar who shared a series of throwback pictures of her and “GP” – her nickname for Callahan – on Instagram. Beside them was a moving tribute to her departed cast mate.
“He stepped into a lot of moments in my life because I didn’t have a father to be there,” the actress mourned. Moreover, Gellar vowed to pay forward Callahan’s love and affection to those he held dearest in life. “I promise you GP just as you were there for me, I will always be there for smoosh (Kaya) and @evalarue as well,” she continued.
As she said herself, LaRue was “beyond brokenhearted” by the loss of her ex-husband. Like Gellar, she took to Instagram to share photos of their time together as well as to reflect on some personal memories. “Your bigger-than-life, gregarious personality will leave a hole in our hearts forever,” the actress wrote.
“We are devastated…My great friend, co-parent partner, and loving father to Kaya,” LaRue continued. “That big belly laugh, bear hugs, bad puns, ability to harmonize to any song, great kitchen table singing-fests, and two steppin badass!…I am at a complete loss for words right now for you.”
Understandably, Ripa too was overwhelmed by Callahan’s death. And yet she was at a loss for how to express her grief when the news first came in. “Because there are no words, all I can muster is Rest in Peace #johncallahan,” the host posted on Instagram. “My heart breaks for you @evalarue and @kaya_callahan.”
But if initially Ripa was too shocked to deliver a eulogy for Callahan, then she would receive another chance the following week. On Monday morning, Ripa resumed hosting duties on Live! with Kelly and Ryan after the weekend hiatus. And she started off the show with an extended tribute to her recently departed friend.
Speaking from her temporary home studio, Ripa began by acknowledging that it had been “a bad weekend.” Although she had spent the preceding couple of days coming to terms with Callahan’s death, it still seemed as though the host was in a state of shock. Nevertheless, she carried on through her obvious unease to deliver her elegy.
To her co-host Ryan Seacrest, Ripa continued: “A very dear friend of mine for many, many years… passed away over the weekend. He was a great actor. Really good friend. One of the funniest people I’ve ever met. He was the ex-husband of my first-born son’s godmother Eva LaRue. His name was John Callahan.”
Soon after, Ripa highlighted Callahan’s relative youth and the subsequent surprise of his death. “He was 66 years old, way too young to be taken from us,” the presenter mourned. However, Ripa seemingly did not want to focus on the tragedy of the actor’s death. Instead, she wanted to celebrate the joy that he brought in life.
What followed from Ripa was a picture of a man who everybody would have got along with – her co-host included. “Ryan, you never knew each other, but you two would have loved each other,” she gushed. One thing Ripa remembered was Callahan’s sense of humor, which would leave her, LaRue and her castmates in stitches.
“He would say the funniest things,” the host continued before revealing a special name for the actor’s witticisms. “We’ve all been, like, going through our brains about all of the funny…‘Callahanisms’ over the years.” All in all, Ripa viewed Callahan as somebody anyone would be lucky to call a friend: “He’s just one of these guys and he just died way too soon.”
But while Ripa spoke about the fond memories she had of Callahan, the host still couldn’t avoid the sadness surrounding his death. In particular, she thought of the loved ones that the soap star had left behind. And in this regard, she had LaRue and Kaya completely in mind.
Speaking directly to her All My Children co-star and her teenage daughter, Ripa began talking not as a friend, but as a family member. To this end, she brought up the bond between Kaya and her own child Lola. “His daughter and my daughter are good friends,” Ripa stated. “They’re the same age.”
“I just want everyone to know, Eva and Kaya,” the TV personality continued, “that we are thinking of you and we are so just sad and so devastated.” And though she vowed to be strong on their behalf, Ripa was still struggling to hide her own pain. “I apologize in advance if I seem out of it,” the host intoned to her audience. “I really actually am.”
Despite her own difficulties in putting her thoughts together, Ripa delivered a suitably moving sendoff to her dear friend. And in the coming days, more tributes would flow in from those who knew and worked with Callahan. Indeed, one radio station even dedicated an entire slot to the actor.
One week after Callahan’s death, California radio station iHub – for whom the actor had been hosting a regular show since 2018 – broadcast a special segment dedicated to its dearly departed colleague. Containing contributions from Callahan’s All My Children co-stars, the show was even hosted by the station’s owner John McMullen.
But for all the dedications given to Callahan’s loved ones, there was still one part of the family in need of help. That all changed in April when LaRue adopted the last official member of Callahan’s clan: his dog Cali. “I promise she’s in good hands,” the actress wrote on her Instagram account.
In life, Callahan made an impression on soap opera lovers through his memorable characters and performances. But through her monologue, Ripa helped to introduce his fans to a side to the star that few outside his social circle got to see. Husband, father, friend: this is the Callahan that will live on in people’s hearts.