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Soap Opera Digest
Welcome Matt

When Matthew appeared on the February 5 episode of DAYS OF OUR LIVES as Jack Deveraux, it was as though he'd never left — the actor's quirky charm, so familiar to long-time DAYS fans, erased the eight years and two ho-hum recasts since we'd seen him last. Matthew SOD April 24The show had a little fun with his homecoming, wiping the slate clean, in effect, which wasn't lost on the actor. "They had me step out of a shower, and I thought, 'This is a kind of a Patrick Duffy moment,'" he laughs.

For Ashford, coming back to Salem was like coming home, in spite of the fact that he had been unceremoniously dumped in 1993 at the height of his popularity. "In some ways, I didn't feel like I'd been gone at all because everything's still the same," he muses. "You feel like nothing has changed, you didn't miss a beat and you can get back to it. I felt a little bit like Rip Van Winkle. To come back and have people say, 'Hey, remember me?' is amazing because all these people have been working for years and everybody looks unchanged."

Surprisingly, there are no hard feelings about his dismissal. "Not at all," he says candidly. "I definitely recognized that things happen. It's interesting that at that time, I felt impasse of either having to move forward or back or somewhere; that's what I was thinking and expression. Life has taken many twists and turns. I knew I made a connection here. I knew people came back, so I said 'Never say never.' I kind of left the door open for when the time was right." In the meantime, Ashford spent two years taking stock, spending time with his family. In 1995, he reappeared on the small screen as GENERAL HOSPITAL's Tom Hardy and stayed until 1997. Episodic roles on PROVIDENCE, PACIFIC BLUE and CHARMED followed. DAYS's call didn't come as a complete surprise — Melissa Reeves, who'd played his other half, Jennifer, for most of his six-year run, had recently come back to the show. Her return made Ashford decision a snap. "In the course of this life we'll meet people and make great friendships, but there are times when you connect, and that is what I have with Missy," he praises. "People don't realize what a good actress she is, how she can make things work. She's a great listener, and she just stays in the moment. I realize I would have bounced off the walls and floated away in some cases if it hadn't been for her being the string that holds the balloon down. My first day back, I came in and Missy was the first person I saw coming down the hall, which was very nice. I'm glad it worked out that we could be together to do this."

If Ashford sounds happy and easy-going, it's because he is. The actor admits that he's a different person than he was the first go-around on DAYS, due in part to his younger SOD article insertdaughter, Emma's battle with retinoblastoma, a rare form of rare form of eye cancer. "I had a child who was deathly ill; I have gone through that," he says quietly. "It's kind of broadened my scope a little more, opened my eyes to the wonder of this moment, to appreciate what we have right now, not to freak out about it. Regret is a horrible thing. I think I believed that more then, but I feel it more now. And if I can infuse that into my work and just appreciate every minute and have a great time doing it, then I feel like I haven't wasted my time or, hopefully, haven't wasted anyone else's time."

The Ashfords learned that Emma was ill when she was 4 months old. "We thought she had a lazy eye and we had it checked out," he explains. "They looked in and said, 'She's got tumors in her eye.' It was a total shock. And the next thing we know, we're in a children's hospital and they're trying to determine whether they should take her eyes out and how far the cancer's spread. That was within a day.

"It was a different life," he continues. "And all of a sudden, it wasn't about acting or being an actor or anybody other than a baby's number on a wristband. We met with Hunter and Michael [Tylo, whose daughter Katya, has the same illness] and kind of determined that we would raise awareness of this disease and other anomalies in the eye. We realized that because this happened, there are alot of children who we're not only saving their lives, but saving their vision as well. That makes a big difference. "

The actor is happy to report that Emma is doing well today. "She wears these cute little glasses, mainly to protect her eyes, but she has no idea that there was anything going on with her," he says. "She makes occasional trips to the hospital, and they check her out." As for how the illness impacted older sister Grace, Ashford admits there was a period of adjustment. "She was the numero uno for a long time, so not only was she displaced by this baby, but this baby had all these special needs," he points out. "It made it very difficult for her. She needed to get talked to and get counseling because it's a family thing to go through when people deal with major tragic or difficult situations." As for Ashford, he had wife Christina by his side.

A less-difficult situation, the actor reports, is deciding whether to sign on full-time with DAYS or stay on a reoccurring basis. "We're seeing how it plays out this time and the audience response and everything like that," he says. But Ashford's optimistic. "I feel like there's a well-spring of stuff going on. I think there's some great possibilities, so I'm definitely open for that."



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