For the past four decades, Eric Braeden (née Hans Jörg Gudegast) has illuminated the silver screen on The Young and the Restless as business mogul Victor Newman; but, his journey to Genoa City wasn't an easy one.
In his autobiography, "I'll Be Damned," Braeden details life growing up in war-torn Germany, the tragic death of his father, finding "salvation" through sports, immigrating to the United States, and doing whatever it took to survive—even if that meant dissecting human cadavers.
READ:Eric Braeden Reflects On 11,000 Episodes OfThe Young And The Restless
The actor spoke with CBS.com about his story of survival and the impact he hopes to have on readers.
What did you learn about yourself as you wrote your autobiography?
Eric Braeden:There are so many things. When you go through life with open eyes, there are so many things you could devote your life to and so many things I'm interested in exploring. There's the environment, 40 million people in America who live in poverty—there are so many issues that one could become involved with.
What do you hope fans will walk away with after reading your life story?
Braeden: The parts that I've played on television for years, on the whole, have been dark characters—the bad guys in the '60s and '70s, and then, Victor Newman, who has been wonderful to play because he is obviously very complex. Hopefully, the fans take away the notion that I'm a complex human being.
In your book, you said, "sports have been my salvation." What are some of the lessons you learned from your time as an athlete?
Braeden:You learn respect. You do not have these false feelings of omnipotence. You may think you're tough and invincible, but there's always someone tougher than you. That is what you learn in sports. You learn a certain amount of humility.
Most guys who have been in the realm of sports and have actually participated usually are a little more circumspect before they open their mouths about certain issues. There's nothing more symbolic than a Tyson, or a Muhammad Ali, or any of those people who for a while thought that they were actually invincible and then learned quickly that that wasn't so. It's a healthy dose of reality.
With [sports training] comes respect for others of any background—of any religion, of any ethnic background, it makes no difference. You'll always find someone who makes you say, 'Whoa, they're damn good at what they do' from totally different cultures, sometimes ... Most athletes will tell you that if you played hard or boxed hard against someone, you most of the time give each other a hug or a handshake and have a beer. Sportsmanship is an important part of what should be done in sports.
How has your experience in athletics translated to your work on screen?
Braeden:One has to always keep in mind what you want to achieve in the end.
What advice do you have for fans who are looking to get more active?
Braeden:[Exercise] is mostly something that you can do on your own. Start lifting weights or start walking. Have someone teach you how to use light weights. I think that the older you get, the more important it is to do weights. I really mean that. I don't mean extreme weights, but weights, because they develop muscles around the joints.
Speaking of joints, you wrote that your first job was cutting joints on cadavers. How in the world did you get involved in that?
Braeden:When you come from the background that I come from, you do just about anything to make a living. That was the first job offered to me. There was a doctor researching arthritis, so I had to cut open knee joints, without air conditioning, in Galveston, Texas. I knew very quickly that was not what I wanted to do for any length of time!
You've traveled a lot throughout your life and have met with many world leaders. What is something you've learned from seeing different places and speaking with various diplomats?
Braeden: You learn when you travel to other places and get to know some of the people that we have so much in common. That is what we need to emphasize—not what differentiates us, but what we have in common.
In your book, you said you fought hard to ensure Victor Newman had a strong backstory. Why was that so important to you?
Braeden: The writer we have right now, Sally Sussman, is perfectly aware of [Victor's] entire backstory because she worked with Bill Bell in the very beginning of the show. So, I'm in good hands. She knows the complexity of the character, who, yes, is capable of making very hard decisions. He's a hard-ass character in business, but he's got a softer side with his family. It is that complexity—and Bill Bell was a genius, as far as I'm concerned—that makes people find the character still interesting.
When [Bell] came up with that backstory of Victor growing up in an orphanage, that was the moment I knew I would stay at the show because that opened up the floodgates for all types of storylines.
Victor has recently talked about his past with his granddaughter, Faith. What do you like about their dynamic?
Braeden:I like the direction [of the show] right now, but [his family] also will not forget that there is a hard-ass side to Victor that will come out again. But, I like this current dynamic [between Victor and Faith] very much because it's close to my own. I have three granddaughters. I grew up with three brothers. I grew up in sports; it's all about fighting. But, when you have three granddaughters, it's just the sweetest.
At the end of your book, you said that neither you nor Victor Newman would be going anywhere. What would you like to see for Victor in the future on Y&R?
Braeden:I hate to prognosticate. I trust the writers, I certainly trust Sally Sussman, and I let them surprise me. I want just to continue more or less the way it has been all these years. [Victor's] a very complex character. What always touched me in real life, as well as on the show, were the times Victor was in a position to help someone out of dire straits.
How about your personal life? Is there anything you're focused on now?
Braeden:Watching my son's career. He's directing a film right now as we speak. It's a film called Den Of Thieves, and he's shooting it in Atlanta, Georgia. He wrote it, so I'm watching with enormous enthusiasm. I have a very good feeling about that.
To learn all about Braeden's fascinating life, read his autobiography, "I'll Be Damned," which goes on sale nationwide on Tuesday, Feb. 7.
Plus, if you're around either Ridgewood, New Jersey, or Los Angeles, make sure to stop by Braeden's book signings at the below locations:
When: Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 6 PM ET
Where: Bookends Bookstore
211 E. Ridgewood Ave., Ridgewood, NJ 07450
Los Angeles, CA
When: Monday, Feb. 13 at 7 PM PT
Where: Barnes & Noble at The Grove
189 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Watch The Young and the Restless weekdays on CBS and CBS All Access.