STAR, February 25, 1986
THE DAY THAAO PENGHLIS TRIED TO KILL HIMSELF
When he was 18 years old, Thaao Penghlis tried to commit suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. Why would someone so young try to kill himself?
Simple, says the Australian actor, who for years worked women into a lather as Count Tony DiMera on the soap Days of Our Lives, and then held America hostage as the Arab terrorist leader in the recent TV-movie Under Siege. "My family expected me to become a doctor or a lawyer, and I wanted to escape that kind of pressure at any cost."
For four days, he lay in a coma and a priest was called in to administer the last rites. Fortunately, Penghlis recovered. Today, 20 years later, he says of his attempted suicide: "It was the best thing I ever did. I know it sounds strange to say that, but I needed to do something about my life."
After he left the hospital in Sydney, Australia, Penghlis' Greek family sent him to a relative's farm to recuperate. There, he came to grips with his future.
"It was like coming back to life again," he says. "I knew I had to leave Australia and come to America. I had to find out who I was."
Before coming to America, Penghlis had an eerie experience that foreshadowed his arrival here. "I had a job with the Immigration Department," he recalls. "One day, about 15 years ago, I interviewed a man named Dyk Shooin, a psychic from Scotland who wanted to live in Australia.
"He gave me a reading and said I'd win a free trip to America on Aug. 29. He also told me I'd become a famous actor, producer and director."
Several weeks later, the Ballet Folklorico was giving away 10 free trips to Mexico. A friend won two tickets and asked Penghlis to accompany him. The day of departure--Aug. 29.
From Mexico, Penghlis went to New York to work for the U.N. Then he met fellow Greek Milton Katselas and started taking acting lessons. He also became a dealer in Chinese and 18th-century English art. Today, his Hollywood home contains a fine collection of art and furniture.
When Katselas decided to move to Los Angeles, Penghlis joined him at his acting workshop in Beverly Hills. Casting directors soon spotted the handsome actor, and he was offered dozens of TV roles.
He was Victor Cassidine on General Hospital, and when head writer Pat Falken Smith moved to Days of Our Lives, she created the role of the evil but erotic Count DiMera for him.
He recently left Days and his chilling portrayal of terrorist Abu Ladin in Under Siege earned rave reviews.
Although he has a girlfriend, Penghlis discreetly declines to reveal her name. All he will say is: "She's an actress I met in class. She has an ethereal quality. She's from the South and has a wonderful manner."
He looks forward to having children. "As a child, I didn't get the wondrous feeling I felt I should have gotten," he says. "Perhaps that's why I get on with children so well--I care for them so much."
But during his four years on Days of Our Lives, Penghlis hardly played the typical family man. "As the count, I led a champagne and caviar life," he admits.
"One day, they had me pouring Dom Perignon into Pic 'n' Save glasses. I said, 'You can't do that! The little things are important.' "
Indeed they are--and they've turned the once-suicidal youth into a man who now seems to have everything going for him.
"Once I only dreamed of the life I'm now living," says Penghlis. "Maybe I can remind other people that the best does exist and can be ours--if only we take the time to look for it and work for it."