Actors Kate Ritchie and Joel McIllroy pose for a Home And Away wedding.
Actors Kate Ritchie and Joel McIllroy pose for a Home And Away wedding.

Dark side of life after Home And Away

Much like its Ten counterpart Neighbours, Home And Away has served as a breeding ground for young Australian talent for more than 30 years.

Melissa George, Simon Baker, Dannii Minogue and Isla Fisher - all got their start amid the golden sands of Summer Bay, before going onto bigger and better things.

And Chris Hemsworth stands as perhaps Home And Away's biggest success story: 15 years after he debuted on the show as a fresh-faced 21-year-old, Hemsworth is a bona fide Hollywood A-lister worth over $100 million.

But what about the young stars who aren't so lucky? Those who, for whatever reason, can't springboard their time on Seven's soapie into lasting acting careers?
For some, the slide back into relative anonymity is far from easy.

A SAD DAY IN COURT

Actor Joel McIllroy played Flynn Saunders on-and-off for 12 years on Home And Away, marrying Kate Ritchie's character Sally Fletcher and earning a Logie nomination for Most Popular Actor in 2006, the same year his character was killed off.

Since then, his few acting credits have seen him fade from the public eye - until this week, when McIllroy faced court for allegedly assaulting a female police officer.

 

During his TV wedding with Kate Ritchie.
During his TV wedding with Kate Ritchie.

 

CCTV cameras captured his arrest.
CCTV cameras captured his arrest.

The former TV soap star appeared downcast and exhausted, occasionally breaking down into tears, as he appeared via audiovisual link from Surry Hills Police Station wearing handcuffs.

Better known with a shaven face from his Home And Away days, McIlroy has grown a white, patchy beard in the years since. He broke down after a magistrate told him he'd be spending at least the next two weeks behind bars for the alleged assault, which "involved several punches on the face to the officer".

McIllroy could face up to seven years in prison if convicted. Grim details of his life post-Home And Away emerged during his defence: A lawyer from Legal Aid told the court the actor, now 46, had been diagnosed with Huntington's disease a decade ago.

The neurological disease causes nerves in the brain to break down over time and the court heard, since being diagnosed with it, McIlroy had struggled with a side-effect of the sickness - poor impulse control.

"The degeneration of the frontal lobe means McIlroy is a person who cannot always control his impulses," his Legal Aid solicitor told the court.

"That is a condition that will continue to increase in terms of his impairment."

Tragically, the same disease had already claimed McIllroy's father's life.

TRAGIC END FOR BEN

 

Actor Ben Unwin was a Home And Away heart-throb.
Actor Ben Unwin was a Home And Away heart-throb.

In August, a name that hadn't hit the headlines in many years resurfaced in the most tragic of circumstances. Actor Ben Unwin was found dead at the bottom of a waterfall west of Byron Bay on August 14, a day before his 42nd birthday.

"Police attended Minyon Falls, Whian Whian, responding to a concern for welfare," NSW Police said in a statement.

"The body of a 41-year-old man was located. The death has not been treated as suspicious."

Tributes flowed for the actor, who played Jesse McGregor on Home And Away from 1996 until 2000, and again from 2002 to 2005. While his 1997 Logie nomination for Best New Talent suggested a promising career ahead, Unwin didn't act again after he left the show.

Former co-star Kristy Wright, who played Chloe Richards on the soap, posted a moving message to Unwin on her Instagram account in which she expressed her regret for not having reached out to him in a few years.

"In 1992 I met you for the first time and immediately fell into a crazy schoolgirl crush," a heartbroken Wright wrote.

 

Unwin with Ada Nicodemou in Home And Away.
Unwin with Ada Nicodemou in Home And Away.

"We were kids with the same dream and pretty quickly we became friends. My crush disappeared but my love for you was just beginning. Years later we both found ourselves working on that little show @homeandaway and our friendship grew deeper.

"You harassed the writers to create a love story between our characters and when it finally happened we laughed our way through it and were just so happy to have the chance to work so closely with each other.

"We haven't spoken in a few years and I cannot express in this moment how sorry I am for that," the actress wrote. "I miss you now that I know I will never see you again.

"I will forever regret not reaching out more … I'm so sorry. I love you. RIP my old friend."

Lynne McGranger, who plays Irene Roberts on the soap, described Unwin's death as a "terrible tragedy", while Kimberley Cooper, who played Gypsy on Home And Away alongside Unwin, told news.com.au she was "just so sad".

"He was a gift to come to work with everyday and to be on the receiving end of his friendship was to know unwavering support, loyalty and love," she said.

'SUDDENLY IT ALL STOPS'

Ben Steel as Jude Lawson on Home And Away.
Ben Steel as Jude Lawson on Home And Away.

One actor who experienced the dizzying fall of life post-Home And Away recently went public about his ensuing struggles with depression and anxiety.

Ben Steel played Summer Bay heart-throb Jude Lawson for 160 episodes from 2000. But after three seasons, his contract was not renewed. He was devastated.

"I think that was the beginning of my struggles," Steel told news.com.au this week of his long battle with depression and anxiety in the years since.

"I was on such a high, being on a show like that. I was doing what I loved. I was getting paid for it too. There were parties, meeting some of my idols, fans, so many amazing things, and suddenly it all stops.

"It was kind of like, who am I? I put so much onto this one little aspect of myself."

Steel knew he wasn't alone - entertainment industry professionals are five times more likely to suffer depression than the general population - and so channelled his pain into his work, making the ABC documentary The Show Must Go On about depression in the industry.

Interviewing subjects for the documentary - and eventually stepping in front of the camera himself to share his story - made Steel realise that for years after Home And Away, he "just wasn't coping with life."

"This film literally saved my life," he said. "If I hadn't gone on this journey, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be here."

 

 

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