CHESHIRE — Jay Bontatibus didn’t have the easiest last name to pronounce, but despite the urgings of talent agents, the actor didn’t change it. Landing roles on numerous soap operas and other hit shows didn’t change the Cheshire native, according to his family.
“He wanted to remain himself,” said his brother Rick Bontatibus.
Jay Bontatibus died Feb. 12 at the age of 52 from cancer.
The actor appeared on “The Young and the Restless,” “General Hospital,” “Days of Our Lives,” “Walker Texas Ranger” and other shows.
He didn’t start acting until college. While attending Cheshire High School, he mostly focused on sports, including football, basketball and lacrosse, according to his brother. Jay Bontatibus was among those who played on the first Cheshire High lacrosse team.
At Central Connecticut State University, he continued playing sports, but also became more interested in acting.
“He’s a pretty tough guy. He definitely had that stature about him,” Rick Bontatibus said, adding that athletes back then weren’t considered to be the type to take part in plays and theater.
Jay Bontatibus went to New York City after college to pursue acting, landing a few roles in commercials and one-off jobs. His brother said a successful audition for the role of Tony Viscardi on “The Young and the Restless” was his breakout moment.
Their mother held a party at her house to watch the first showing with friends. Rick Bontatibus said it was surreal to see strangers watching his brother on television.
“I learned how many people actually watch soap operas,” he said. “I had people at work asking for autographed pictures.”
Jay Bontatibus played Tony Viscardi from 1998 until 2000. That led to more roles in soap operas as well as some films and shows such as “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and “Drake and Josh,” a favorite of Jay Bontatibus’ nieces and nephews. He was on TV so often that the family got used to it.
“Eventually it got to be, ‘Oh, Jay’s on TV,’” Rick Bontatibus said.
The spotlight didn’t change him though. Rick Bontatibus said his brother was passionate and fiercely loyal to his friends.
“He didn’t have all these demands, that’s not what he was like,” he said. “It’s why a lot of people loved Jay. If you were Jay’s friend, you knew it.”
One of the last things Jay Bontatibus said, according to Rick Bontatibus, was to tell his friends and family that he had fought as hard as he could.
“He wanted everyone to know that,” Rick Bontatibus said.
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