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Matthew Ashford Actor

Matthew Ashford

Matthew originally played the role of "Jack Deveraux" on NBC's soap opera "Days Of Our Lives" since 1987, and regained the role in 2001. Ashford worked many odd jobs in order to attend the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. After college graduation, Matt moved to New York City where he was quickly put on a holding contract with ABC, which led to the role of Drew Ralston on “One Life to Live.” His career in daytime television continued with roles on “Search for Tommorrow,” and “General Hospital.” He has also been featured in the films “Species,” “Bonfire of the Vanities,” and “Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss,” starring Sean Hayes (NBC’s “Will & Grace”). Ashford guest starred on the hit comedy “Dharma and Greg” and he remains an active member of the Interact Theatre Company in Los Angeles. Ashford and his wife are the parents of two daughters, Grace and Emma. Ashford is a spokesperson for Retinoblastoma International, an organization the Ashfords were instrumental in forming after Emma was diagnosed with the rare form of infant eye cancer, from which she is now in remission. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, camping, having outdoor adventures, and above all, being with his family. Matthew was born on January 29, in Davenport, IA. One of eight children, Ashford spent his formative years growing up in Fairfax, VA.
The actor has been married since 1987 to actress/singer Christina Ashford, and they share two daughters, Grace and Emma.

Matthew Ashford: Matters of Life and Death

Back in October of 2003, Matthew Ashford's long-running DAYS OF OUR LIVES character, Jack Deveraux, was bludgeoned to death by the Salem Stalker. Less than two months, later, the actor resurfaced on ONE LIFE TO LIVE, where he'd begun his daytime career two decades earlier and would soon be revealed as the serial murderer who'd been terrorizing Llanview!

It's an irony that isn't lost on Ashford. "I feel like jack has left one alternate universe for another, says the actor, who originated his DAYS role in 1987 and returned in 2001 after an eight-year absence. "I have scenes with Bree Williamson (Jessica) where I keep saying [the name of his DAYS wife] Jennifer, or Salem university instead of Llanview University. I've had to bit my tongue on many occasions."

And we'd be remiss not to mention Stephen Haver's mother, Marlena, who shares the same name as DAYS' killer doc! "Isn't that something?" the actor laughs.

Coming Home
In many ways, Ashford's career has come full circle with his return to OLTL. "It's really wonderful to be back her again," says the actor, who played Drew Ralston from 1982-1983 in his first television role. "I worked with Bob Woods (Bo), Erika Slezak (Viki), Robin Strasser (Dorian) and Phil Carey (Asa) before, and I'm getting the chance to work with a whole group of new, talented people as well.

"But," he continues, "I'm in a slightly different place now. I had been through four years of a professional training school [earning a BFA in theater from the North Carolina School Of The Arts] when I arrived in 1982, and yet I still basically didn't know what to do. Everyone has so much on their plate that you really can't wait for someone to direct you. You have to look at your own work and make strong choices; I didn't.

While Drew met a sad fate, Ashford found new life on other soaps (see FYI box below), and returned to Llanview with a new perspective. "I learned from different mistakes," he relates. "Coming back here now, this character is wide open, and i said, `I'm going to do my own thing and keep bringing things for the directors, producers and writers to look at.'

"Back then," he continues, "I didn't always know what to do with it and thought, `It's just another day -- when in fact every day is this great opportunity. Maybe that big movie is out there, but who knows? You better not wait to do your best acting until you get there. Whatever you're given here, you should make something of it, because it will help you be the kid of actor that can take all kinds of material and make something of it. I wish I'd been able to figure that out back then."

Seizing The Moment
While the the handwriting seems to be on the wall for his killer character, LA-based Ashford is keeping an open mind. "Although [Stephen] sounds like he's not so long for this world, it's hard to tell," he says. "I'm also talking to people at the network about other projects. I'll be back in L. A. for pilot season, but if something comes up here, I'll be back in New York, too."

After being on the West coast for so long, Ashford even was able to relish the East Coast's harsh winter weather. "I actually liked the snow because i hadn't been in it for so long," he relates. "I got a good dose of it this time, and I got to wear clothes I haven't worn in years!" It's a beautiful city, I've reconnected with old friends and made new friends, I got to see Broadway theater, the symphony and the opera."

Like the weather, Ashford acknowledges that the soap business is ever-changing -- and that's all the more reason to make every day count. "In 2020, people will be looking back to the good old days of 2004 and saying, `Remember when we were there?' This business is so volatile, who knows what we'll be doing then? So we've got to enjoy this."

Matthew Ashford: Take Five

What are your favorite things to do with your daughters?
"Camp, hike, wrestle, and have adventures."

What is the biggest challenge of fatherhood?"
"Remembering that it is not about me."

How have your daughters surprised you?
"They are much more intuitive than me and much more attuned to their gifts and their possibilities than I was at their age."

What values do you hope to instill in Grace and Emma?
"Belief in themselves, in their potential and in their creativity."

What has having two daughters taught you?
"That one is one and two is like having five! Seriously, I have had to become a more patient person and learn to appreciate everything in the moment as a child would."

Matthew Ashford's Power of Faith

DAYS' Matthew Ashford reveals his daughter's struggle with
retinoblastoma -- and how it changed his family's perspective on life
WITH THE LOVE AND SUPPORT of their family and friends and the power of faith, Matthew Ashford (Jack, Days of our Lives), his wife, Christina Saffran, and their daughters, Grace, 10, and Emma, 5, survived a harrowing ordeal in June. Emma, who had been diagnosed with retinoblastoma (an eye cancer that effects children) at the age of 4 months, was brought in for a checkup, and her ophthalmologist discovered a tumor that ultimately led to the removal of her left eye.

"It was a blow. It was horrific," reflects Ashford. "But it's nothing that we can't handle. If it's right there in front of you, [you have no choice] but to deal with it."

The nightmare began after a year and a half of positive feedback from Emma's doctors. Having survived chemotherapy and nearly 40 laser surgeries in her young life, Emma had frequent check ups. "Every now and then they would find another tumor cell. Doctors get it with a laser when it was tiny," says Ashford, noting that Emma was seen every three weeks until she was 3. "By then the retina is pretty much developed. Most kids are out of the woods, and Emma was looking good."

The span between follow-up doctor visits increased "to four weeks, then five, then six," adds Ashford. "Eventually, it was up to two months, three months.... This was the first six-month period. During that time everything was going great. Emma was being a normal little kid. We were trying to be normal parents."

All that changed, however, when Emma was preparing to go on a road trip with her mother. "It was time for a checkup," recounts Ashford, "and no one expected that there was going to be any problem. But when the doctor [examined Emma], a tumor had been growing an infinitesimal cell to six millimeters. That is huge inside the eye. If we had waited another three weeks, who knows what would have happened. It had to be dealt with." The tumor was too big to laser, and the Ashfords decided against radiation. Instead, they opted for a freezing treatment called cryotherapy, which was performed immediately at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. "Emma came home that night," recalls Ashford. "She was in some pain, but she didn't show it."
When the Ashfords took Emma in for a follow-up checkup, they learned that while cryotherapy had destroyed Emma's tumor, "it had also detached her retina fully. So what little vision she had was gone in her left eye," he says. "Emma told me herself. She put her had over her right eye and said, `Daddy, I can't see you when I cover this eye.'"

The loss of her sight was only a small part of the problem. "The doctor could not see to the back of Emma's eye. He was concerned that there may be something else back there, other possible tumors," explains Ashford. "Plus, the retina was folding up. Eventually, Emma's eye would have shrunk and she would have been in pain. The only thing to do was remove [the eye]."

It was a heartwrenching decision, but the Ashfords found a strong support system. "We called Michael and Hunter Tylo (Taylor, The Bold and the Beautiful) right away," remembers Ashford. (The Tylos' daughter Katya, 4, had endured the same surgery years earlier.) "We called relatives. [My wife and I] are both Buddhists, and we had a lot of support from friends in faith who changed with us, for us, and for Emma. We realized that this is another step in the mission -- where we're going and where Emma is going."
The Ashfords refused to wallow in self-pity. "There are a lot of people hurting out there with all sorts of pain, whether it be spiritual, physical or emotional," muses Ashford. "Everyone is going through something or has gone through something. Everyone has a strong desire to be haply. How we go about that is what is important. Emma is a reminder of that for me.

So the family counted their blessings. "There are people in worse situations," Ashford points out. "Children who have already had one eye removed and are fighting to save the vision in their last eye. There is a possibility that you will gamble to keep your child's vision and you'll lose the child, because the tumor cells might grow right up the optic nerve and into the brain. That is a hellish situation to be in. We were not in it."

Still, the Ashfords did have the daunting task of preparing Emma for her operation. "We did that with the help of counselors," says Ashford. "They [explained to Emma] that there were some bad cells in her eye that needed to come out. The point is to actually tell them what is happening and what is going to happen. Emma dealt with it well and is continuing to deal with it."

She did have some concerns about the prosthetic eye she would be receiving, however. Particularly, the fact that her "new and beautiful eye," as everyone was referring to it, wouldn't be able to see. "Emma didn't think that as fair states Ashford. "But I pointed out that her old eye wasn't seeing anyway, which she couldn't argue with."

Ultimately, Emma's left eye was removed, and an implant was inserted into the socket. "It's a relatively simple operation. It took two hours," says Ashford, adding that while Emma was heavily sedated, she was treated as an outpatient. By the next day, she was pretty much pain-free.

Some six weeks later, after the swelling subsided, Emma went for her first fitting for her prosthetic eye. "That was difficult," admits Ashford. "It's like a huge contact lens that has to go in and come out from under the eyelid about seven, eight, nine times, because the ocularist is shaping and shaving it and seeing how it moves. Emma had reached her limit and did not want anyone messing with her."

Finally, after three visits, Emma's new eye was finished. "The ocularist put it in, and Emma hopped off her seat, went over to the mirror, and said, `Oh! I look like me again,'" Ashford smiles. "Emma went to the ocularist and gave him a big hug. He started to cry. Christina started to cry. Emma was so pleased.

"We are so fortunate because Emma's eyesight in her right eye is good. Emma will have to adjust, but she'll be fine. The point is to realize it's a lifetime thing now. People have to look after their contact lenses or any number of things. That's what Emma will have to do. It's not a big deal."
Meanwhile, physicians will monitor Emma's right eye more often. "The murmurs in that eye are scars. It responded differently. It responded much better, because we caught it sooner. Once again, it goes back to early detection."

And that is why Ashford agreed to do this interview. "I'm not here to sit and talk about [poor] Emma. Emma is doing fine, assures Ashford. "She started kindergarten in September and was excited."

Instead, Ashford is anxious to use this opportunity "to remind people to have their baby's eyes dilated.... to have their grandbaby's eyes dilated by their pediatrician or pediatric ophthalmologist. And, once again, to say that we are working toward early detection. If Emma's eyes had been fully dilated and check at six weeks, I know we would have seen something. That is what we (at Retinoblastoma International) are pushing."

(Ashford and his wife serve on the board of directors for Retinoblastoma International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the world about the disease and available treatments.)

"There are drops now that can be put onto a baby's eyelids to dilate their eyes. You do not even have to open their eyes to put them in," continues Ashford. "[Afterward], a doctor can look in there. He might find a cataract. He might find amblyopia. He might find cancer. There are all sorts of vision things that need to be addressed."

Aside from raising awareness, the Ashfords are also dedicated to raising funds for the organization. "Occasionally, we do events. We try to get grants. We are always in desperate need of money," he stresses. "Right now we are selling faith, hope and charity bracelets and lariats via our Web site, Retinoblastoma.net. (Checks can be made payable to: Retinoblastoma International, c/o Children's Hospital Los Angeles, 4650 Sunset Blvd., Mail Stop 88, Los Angeles, CA 90027.)

Having endured their own personal battle with Retinoblastoma via young Emma, the Ashfords have emerged stronger, wiser and determined to spare other families from the rough road they have traveled. "It keeps things simple and straightforward as to what is important," declares Ashford. "We appreciate each other, and we have this wonderful focus of Retinoblastoma International. If we have energy or anger or desire to do something, we can reach out and make a difference.

Soap star Matthew Ashford focuses on retinoblastoma

As an actor, Days of Our Lives star Matthew Ashford is used to the pain and drama of terrible tragedies. But nothing could prepare him for the real-life soap opera he experienced when his four-month old daughter, Emma, was diagnosed with retinoblastoma (Rb).

"My wife, Christina, discovered this. We thought it was a lazy eye. Our pediatrician, who also had an infant, said it was possible. But she suggested we go to a pediatric ophthalmologist. She said, 'No rush.'"

The Ashfords were able to get Emma an appointment at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles the following day. But the subsequent diagnosis was heart-wrenching.

"We were told that Emma had six tumors in each eye, which is common," recalls Ashford. "In the past, I'd go to CHLA as a celebrity. This was so different."

Retinoblastoma is a malignant tumor of the retina — the light-sensitive layer of the eye that allows us to perceive images. Rb develops from immature retinal cells in one (unilateral) or both eyes (bilateral) of the developing fetus, newborns, infants, and children under five. Boys and girls have the same chance of occurrence.

There are only about 350 Rb cases each year in the USA, with about 8,000 cases reported worldwide, although precise world statistics do not exist.

"If you take the number of kids at risk, there are anywhere between 13 and 15 cases per million. It's not huge, but the problem is that 90% of the births in the world are in the developing countries," reports Dr A. Linn Murphree, director of the Retinoblastoma Center at Childrens Hospital, Los Angeles, who is also the Ashfords' pediatric ophthalmologist. "There are probably as many as 19,000 cases in the developing world. It becomes a huge World Health Organization problem."

If untreated before it escapes the eye, Rb is fatal. But with improved detection, less than 10% succumb to the disease.

Murphree is currently involved with a group in Belgium to educate people in developing countries about Rb and its symptoms — which include:

* Red, painful eye
* Poor vision
* Inflammation of tissue surrounding eye
* An enlarged or dilated pupil
* Crossed eyes

The average age of diagnosis is about 13-15 months for the 40% of Rb patients with bilateral involvement. For the 60% of Rb patients with unilateral involvement, the average age increases to 24 months.

"The big push is to find these kids earlier," says Murphree."We are working with the American Academy of Pediatrics to teach pediatricians to find Rb earlier by dilating the pupils as part of well-child care. There's a misconception of how difficult it is to put in drops. It's very simple, especially in a baby."

Children and infants with Rb are typically diagnosed by an eye exam called a red reflex test, in which a light is shined directly into the eye.

"The parents usually describe the child's eye with a 'g' word — glow, gleam, glare," says Murphree. "It's also called leukocoria or cat's eye. You can see it momentarily in dim light. When you turn on the light, the pupil comes down and you don't see it."

Biopsies are often avoided to prevent the eye cancer cells from spreading outside the eye. Instead, CAT scans, ultrasounds, and MRIs are often used to confirm an Rb diagnosis and detail the extent of the tumors.

"The first MRI, is a hellish situation for a parent to see their child strapped down," says Ashford. "Some people think hell is somewhere you go after you die. Well, it exists right here."

Rb exacts a heavy toll not only on the children afflicted with the disease but parents and families as well. "Eighty percent of marriages break up," says Murphree. "It is a terrible blow to parents that their child may lose their eye or their life. Communication breaks down. Siblings act up because the focus is on the sick child."

Murphree and a counselor spoke with the Ashfords about Emma's potential eye loss and chemotherapy.

"We were basically saying goodbye to Emma's eyes because we thought they'd be taking them out," says Ashford. "We didn't know whether she'd live. Because it was in both eyes, she's got it genetically in every cell of her body."

A century ago, Rb was 100% fatal. Today, in most cases, new therapies and treatment combinations save both eyesight and lives.

Treatments include:

* Enucleation — Removal of the eye.
* Photocoagulation — Using laser light to destroy blood vessels that feed the tumor.
* Cryotherapy — Extreme cold is applied to destroy cancer cells.
* Chemotherapy — Drugs are injected into the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.
* Internal beam radiation — Radioactive material is placed into or near the tumor.
* External beam radiation — Radiation is directed from a machine outside the body.

"Chemotherapy is a terrible way to treat a tumor," says Murphree. "It's like killing a fly with a sledgehammer. It's so non-specific that you are doing lots of damage. We're trying to find a way to target only cancer cells." Murphree pioneered chemoreduction, a combination of chemotherapy and laser treatment that is now used worldwide.

"There's a lot of research going on regarding giving agents like chemotherapy (locally) outside the eye, under the white of it, so it passes and diffuses into the eye," says Murphree. "The two eyes only account for about 1% of the mass of the body. With chemotherapy, we're treating 99% of the body that doesn't need it."

Emma endured chemo for four months and had 34 surgeries. Fortunately, the Ashford's story has a happy ending.

Emma made it to three years, when the retina fully developed, and was able to keep both her eyes. She is legally blind in the center of her left eye, but she has peripheral vision in it.

"This is part of our lives now," says Ashford. "We'll be monitoring Emma intensely through all the time she is growing up.

To raise awareness and funds for families less fortunate than themselves, the Ashfords and friends, Hunter and Michael Tylo, formed Retinoblastoma International. The Tylo's daughter, Katya, also had Rb.

"We called Hunter and Michael and asked what we could do together," says Ashford. "We decided this was an opportunity to turn this into something good. We can do something. We can make a difference."

The Keys To Matthew Ashford

GH's Tom Hardy is standing on a precipice as he wrestles with his unresolved relationship with his late father -- actor Matthew Ashford is thrilled that his character is getting a psychological twit to dd to the steamy love scenes with Kristina Wanger (Felicia) that have been garnering him so much attention.

"Tom went in to Steve's office to confront him at long last, but he was dead, gone," says Matthew. "It was like who had the last laugh? Who had the final say? The answer: Steve did.

"Steve wanted Tom to take over the hospital one day," he points out, "and I'm excited about having all these people from Alan Quartermaine to Monica, to Dr. Dorman, Kevin Collins and Tony Jones in the mix -- not to mention the nurses and my mother. There's room for a major battle here," he laughs.

Last Christmas, the father-son relationship between Tom & Steve took on real-life importance. "John Beradino (Steve) was supposed to tell the Christmas story to the kids, as he'd done for years and years," Matthew recalls. "But he suddenly got too sick to do it, so they called me the night before and said they needed me to do it."It was six pages long, so I said, 'Ooooooookkkkay.'

"I found out later that John had specifically asked that I do it because he said, 'He's my son. I think I'd ask him to do it.'

"John Beradino was always into the show and Very much its cheerleader," Matthew adds.

After a year of playing the part, Tom Hardy is still something of an enigma, Matthew confesses, but he enjoys the challenge of unearthing the gold.
"There's something about Felicia that sets him off, so that he's doing things he's never done before, taking chances and doing things in fron of other people that society says you shouldn't be doing," he acknowledges.

"Is this a dangerous kind of game that can get out of hand?" he considers. "I'm not sure. Some people like what's going on, but others say, "'It's a bit much.' I've heard a bit of everything.

"I enjoy working with Kristina Wagner (Felicia), and anything's fine as long as it's attached to a story and doesn't become gratuituous," he adds.

Matthew reveals that he's urged his real-life actress wife -- whose name also happens to be Christina ("It's good they have the same name. I can get away with murder," he jokes) - not to watch the show.

"I've talked to other people who've experienced this," he says. "What good is it going to do to watch? Christina did see me one day when she was getting her nails done. They turned on the TV and of course it was, 'Hey watch this...'

"I've watched Christina kiss guys on stage," he adds. "I understand that it's part of our job as actors. I suppose if she constantly had to rehearse that I'd start to be... well, that would be different."

Matthew grew up in Virginia in a family of eight children, says he and Christina are thinking about expanding their family (which includes 4-year-old daughter Grace).

But he admits he's not tempted to expand it to quite the size group that he was raised in.

"I think about a large family, but like ost people in America now, we make choices about what kind of life it would be with a whole buch of kids," he points out. "If I were a multimillionaire who could live anywhere I wanted, I think it would be great to have a bunch of kids. At this point, though, we're not looking towards a big family, just a slightly larger one."

Matthew hopes he can provide the pleasures his parents gave him and his siblings. "The 10 of us used to go camping on family vacations," he recalls. "Looking back, I'm sure it was very difficult to do, but those times were enjoyable for me. But I didn't have to fix the flat tire. And there was always food -- i just had to eat it.

"Now I realize how hard it was for my parents, but I see that's where we created so many memories," he adds. "It's work to created memories, but that's what I want to do for my children.

Matthew Ashford: Spider Man

"I'M THE VICTIM OF THE WEEK," GRINS MATTHEW ASHFORD (Tom, General Hospital), who gets to play dead in the July 27 [1995] episode of Burke's Law. Ashford portrays tennis superstar "Spider" Arthur, an old college pal of Peter Burke (Peter Barton, who played Scott Grainger on The Young and the Restless), who meets his demise prior to a tournament when he's bitten by an Atrax spider that had been placed in his shoe.

While few tears are shed over the cocky, volatile pro's passing, Peter feels the most remorse since he only remembers the pre-celebrity Spider. Together Peter and Amos (Gene Barry) work their way through a web of suspects to find the killer.

According to Ashford, with Spider's emergence as a tennis star, "he got more and more nasty, and he alienated just about everybody around him. Then, of all things, he dies a horrible, nasty death from a spider bite," he says, noting that the character actually collected the creepy crawlers. "And it was one of his own spiders that bit him."

Ashford describes Spider as "a pretty wild guy... a pretty racy character. He kind of ran around and did whatever he wanted to do, saw who he wanted to see. He had a girlfriend (Stephanie Romanov, who played Teri Stevens and Monique Duran on Models, Inc.), but she didn't have that much of a hold on him."

Since tennis was the character's specialty, Ashford had to reacquaint himself with the sport. "I had not picked up a tennis racket in 15 years, so I tried," he laughs. Fortunately, he did have a double for the tennis-court scenes, which are shown in flashbacks throughout the episode. "But the double was right-handed, and I'm left-handed, so I ended up having to double the double. I had to pretend I was right-handed, so he could shoot well."

Apparently, the show wasn't able to film Ashford's death scene on location, as was originally planned. The management of the country club where they were shooting that particular episode wouldn't allow actors on its premises. "The were pretty hoity-toity," he explains. "So we had to go back to the studio to shoot the scene."

Aside from not having played tennis for a long time, Ashford also notes that it had been quite some time since he had to expire on-camera. "I landed right on it -- perfectly. The crew was ecstatic. I guess it meant that they got out earlier. So they gave me a big round of applause."

While Ashford meets his maker in Burke's Law, he narrowly escapes death in the feature film Species -- a science-fiction thriller starring Ben Kingsley.

"It's kind of an Aliens meets Looking for Mr. Goodbar," sums up Ashford. "I have a tiny part in that. It's one of those 'don't blink' kind of roles. I play a guy in a bar about to be picked up by an alien creature who has adopted the form of a lovely young woman. At the last minute another drunken girl falls into my lap, takes my attention away from the alien, and I'm spared."

As for the character's billing in the film, Ashford says: "He was either Guy in the Bar, or Good-Looking Guy in the Bar. But I think they dropped the good-looking," the actor grins.

Burke's Law [aired] on CBS. Species is an MGM release [at the time of the article was] currently in theaters nationwide.

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