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Bellamy Young Opens Up About Losing Her Father to Liver Disease and Her New Mission to Spread Awareness (EXCLUSIVE)

The 'Scandal' actress opens up about her work with UnderstandingHE.com and how she overcame heartache

For seven seasons Bellamy Young held the top position in The Oval Office as Scandal’s Commander in-Chief. But today she is leading the way for a cause near and dear to her heart and one she’s determined to raise awareness for. Bellamy is teaming up with Salix Pharmaceuticals and their campaign UnderstandingHE.com, designed to educate people about Cirrhosis, the result of permanent liver damage, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, is due to things such as chronic alcohol use.

The latest statistics indicate over 39-million Americans have some form of liver disease. Up to 5.5 million suffer from chronic liver disease such as cirrhosis and up to 80% will be affected by hepatic encephalopathy (HE). Bellamy’s own dad struggled with alcohol and it’s a chapter of her childhood the actress is choosing to share so she can promote correct information and guide people to where they can learn more about the disease.

Bellamy Young was a typical teenage girl

Bellamy and her parents
Bellamy and her parents Courtesy of Bellamy Young

Like most teenage girls who are embarrassed to be seen with their parents, Bellamy was self-conscious about hers, particularly the secret she didn’t want anyone knowing.

“My dad was a drinker, so when he was diagnosed with cirrhosis, there was a lot of shame and stigma around it,” she tells FIRST for Women. “For us, the best way to deal with it was we to go home, close the door and not think about it.” It was the 1980’s, a very different time when cirrhosis and hepatic encephalopathy (HE), which her father developed ten months after his initial diagnosis, wasn’t talked about openly.

Bellamy’s recalls how her father’s HE began affecting his cognition, his ability to work and most importantly, his ability to be her dad. Bellamy was only 15 when he passed away, the loss turning her whole world upside down.

“At the time, it was just me and my mom,” Bellamy she recalls, “and my entire thought process was how do we keep the lights on and how do we pay the bills? I couldn’t deal with the emotions of losing my dad, because I had a job to do.”

Learning to cope with grief

After finishing college and entering adulthood, Bellamy found the right therapists that helped her walk through the guilt, shame, fear and grief around losing a parent. “Everyone’s grief is different and reveals itself differently in different stages of our lives,” says Bellamy, “but our bond is when we are honest with ourselves and take it one step at a time, because grief and loss happen all the time. Talking to someone is a great way to connect, because even a stranger can have the greatest impact on the healing process.”

Let the memories live again

Bellamy and her dad
Bellamy and her dad Courtesy of Bellamy Young

Since taking the helm for the UnderstandingHE campaign, Bellamy says, it has been both hard and important to recall so many memories of her dad. “We tend to focus on the bad and sad stuff, but now, as I am looking at pictures of him, I am choosing to focus on the great memories.” Her most favorite of which took place in her own backyard in North Carolina, where she grew up.

Bellamy chuckles and says, “The Catholic School I went to was having its annual field day, which you had to be athletic for and, trust me, neither one of us were sporty. Because my dad was an auditor, he was all about patience and accuracy, so he used those skills to help me become a champion.”

Bellamy's father at his college graduation
Bellamy’s father at his college graduation Courtesy of Bellamy Young

Every day after school, Bellamy’s dad would teach her how to throw balls underhand through a tire while blue grass music was playing on the radio. Not only did Bellamy master the craft, but she took home second place in the competition.

Why Bellamy Young chose performing

Bellamy’s ability to make any character she plays believable landed her starring roles on Scandal, The Other Back Girl, Prodigal Son and Criminal Minds. But to her, it was actually singing that brought magic.

“Singing,” according to her, “was always my solace and my haven.” It started when she was eight years old and landed the title role of “Annie” in her church’s production of the Broadway musical.

“The part still resonates with me today,” Bellamy says, “because like the character, I too was adopted, so there was a lot of emotional cross-over — especially when I sang ‘Maybe,’ which still cuts me wide open.” It was at that moment, Bellamy recalls, “I was like, ‘Whoa, this story telling thing is powerful.’”

Bellamy Young in Scandal (2017)
Bellamy Young in Scandal (2017) moviestillsdb.com/ABC

Pursuing a career in show business also allowed Bellamy to escape reality. “I can be anyone but me, and at one point I was so happy to be anyone else but myself.”

Nowadays the entertainer has found a lot of joy in being herself and becoming a part of many different “work” families in television and The Great White Way, regardless of the project’s duration. She says being in her 50’s has also given her the confidence to branch out and explore other opportunities.

During the Hollywood strike, when the entertainment world came to a complete standstill, Bellamy used her time to discover another hidden talent she’s good at: writing. She and her best friend wrote a book that they’re currently turning into a trilogy and pitching as a TV series.

Her greatest inspiration

Bellamy also dedicates time to volunteering with the CARE organization and sharing their message: women need to lift other women up. When asked who is the one person she credits with lifting her up, she states that, hands down, it’s her mom, who recently passed away.

“While my mom had a lot of faults,” Bellamy says, “she had a mind unlike anyone else’s I have ever seen and to this day, I have never had a better teacher than her.”

Bellamy with her mom on her 83rd birthday, 2023Instagram/@bellamyyoung

Bellamy chuckles when she says, “My mom was big on writing thank you notes, because she was all about gratitude. I remember how she would sit me down and stand over me as I wrote thank you notes, which I hated doing, but guess what? I still send them out to this day.”


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