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MSUM grad, celebrated daytime TV star Jerry verDorn dies after battle with cancer

Bitten by the acting bug at Minnesota State University Moorhead, he returned to star in productions after making it big.

Jerry verDorn
Actor Jerry verDorn, a Minnesota State University Moorhead graduate, starred in soap operas for 34 years.
Contributed / Special to The Forum
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MOORHEAD — One of Minnesota State University Moorhead’s best-known alumnus, actor Jerry verDorn, died Sunday at his home in Sparta, N.J. , after fighting cancer. He was 72.

The actor burst onto the small screen in 1979 as attorney Ross Marler in CBS’ “Guiding Light.” He would play the role for 26 years — a record for the show — winning Daytime Emmy Awards for Best Supporting Actor in 1995 and 1996.

He left the show in October 2005 for ABC’s “One Life to Live,” where he took over the role of Clint Buchanan until the show was canceled 2013. He then retired, having been a mainstay on daytime TV for 34 years.

A native of Sioux Falls, S.D., verDorn graduated from high school in Edina, Minn., and then attended MSUM in 1968. He started off with plans to teach English, but was bitten by the theater bug there and went on to star in numerous productions during the school year as well as summer stock, alongside actors like Jan Maxwell, Kristin Rudrud and Steve Poitras.

After graduating in 1976, he moved to the East Coast, where he was “discovered” by a manager during a run at the Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C. The manager urged the actor to move to New York, but first verDorn came back to Fargo and married his college sweetheart, Bethea “Beth” Stewart, who he met during an MSUM production of “Anne of a Thousand Days.” They married in June 1977 in Fargo and promptly loaded up a Plymouth Duster and moved to New York.

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While other actors struggled to find work, verDorn found a level of success, appearing in two Broadway plays at the same time.

His stage acting caught the eye of a casting agent for CBS and in March of 1979, he started work on “Guiding Light.” In addition to his two Daytime Emmy wins in the role, he was nominated four other times.

In addition to his TV role, verDorn returned to MSUM for summer productions in 1977, 1980 and 1982.

In 2008, he made his last campus visit for the memorial celebration of Delmar "Doc" Hansen — the namesake of MSUM’s Center for the Arts Hansen Theatre — as well as the 45th anniversary of MSUM’s Straw Hat Players.

A private memorial celebration will be held this summer.

For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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