Nearly four decades equals innumerable memories for “The Young and the Restless” star Marla Adams, whose iconic character Dina Abbott Mergeron recently succumbed to Alzheimer's. Here, Marla talks about bringing Dina’s journey to an end and shares what she learned from Alzheimer’s caregivers.
In October, iconic soap opera character Dina Abbott Mergeron walked into the light, which means the actress who has portrayed her on-and-off since 1983 has closed a chapter of her own. “It has been a privilege,” says soap veteran Marla Adams. “I’ve done Broadway, movies… but nothing has been more humbling for me than this Alzheimer’s storyline. This is a role that I feel so rewarded and privileged to have played. I am so grateful. I start crying just talking about it.”
Bringing Alzheimer’s Disease to TV Screens
Marla was not crying when then co-executive producer and head writer Sally Sussman contacted her back in 2017 about returning to the role. But Marla quickly realized that this storyline would not be like the others. “Sally approached me, saying that Dina would have Alzheimer’s disease and would eventually pass away,” Marla says. “We actually ended up seeing more of Dina’s journey than I expected; her death came nearly three years after my return. In those short years, the role turned out to be the most important role I have ever done in my entire life.”
Reactions to the Alzheimer’s disease storyline have been very humbling for Marla, especially coming from fans who are caregivers themselves. “I have learned about Alzheimer’s disease through the caregivers I have connected with, people who have reached out to me from all over the world,” she says. “Prior to the pandemic, caregivers would bring their loved ones with the disease to meet me at various appearances. This is when I learned that these caregivers are true teachers. They are the ones to be celebrated for all they do. They are the ones who have experienced the ins and outs of this horrific disease. Their selflessness is not to be believed.”
Marla will certainly miss the character of Dina, but as soap operas have brought back characters before, never say never to another appearance from Dina. “I love and miss Dina, in all her badness and all her glory. The greatest gift I was given was being able to return to the show, and to work with a group of people with so much love and integrity.
Playing Dina as a woman with Alzheimer’s has motivated me to encourage others to be empathic. It must come from the inside out. I've learned that when speaking with a caregiver, it is often okay to say absolutely nothing and just listen. We are all at different points in our journey, so it is important to respect where other people are on theirs.”
Marla’s Next Act
Now that the curtains have drawn on this role, Marla is looking forward to bright things ahead. “My great-grandson was born in July and I can’t wait to meet him,” she shares. “He is as cute as a bug’s ear!”
As she looks back on her long career, Marla has come to a place of acceptance within herself. “I love myself now. I was a bit of a performing seal since the age of four. Now, at 82, I can take a deep breath and do whatever I want to do.
If I have learned one thing in life, it is that I have been accepted and let in by so many hearts, so I will keep mine open, and continue to let good people in.”
Raised three blocks from the Atlantic Ocean in New Jersey, today, Marla lives three blocks from the Pacific Ocean, in Santa Monica, a place she has enjoyed in her own little ways during the pandemic. “I get very excited when I see a dog with its owner. I go ballistic, screaming and waving! I find joy in these moments.”
Reflecting on the ups and downs of the past year, Marla has relied on humor while facing reality. “Humor has been a wonderful way to process the pains of the pandemic, as have the tears that inevitably come. I’ve learned to give myself permission to cry.
I’ve had so much love and laughter in my life that I can barely express how much. Sometimes I have to just look in the mirror without makeup and have a giggle. In these daunting times, we must continue to love each other without neglecting to love ourselves.”
About: Marla Adams has been acting for nearly 80 years. Other notable credits in her career include TV series “The Secret Storm” and the 1961 Oscar-winning film “Splendor in the Grass.”
Still photo from "The Young and the Restless" credited to: Howard Wise / JPI Studios