To Dynasty devotees, Al Corley will forever be known as the first Steven Carrington. After two years of portraying the bisexual black-sheep son of oily oil baron Blake Carrington (John Forsythe), Corley ceded the role in 1982 to the similarly blond and chiseled Jack Coleman. The sizzling series’ explanation for Steven’s transformation: He underwent plastic surgery after being injured in an explosion while exiled in Indonesia.
Almost as unbelievable was the idea that any actor would want out of Dynasty, a Top 10 show from 1982 to 1986. But Corley, now 43, did. “I couldn’t perceive doing that show for eight or nine years,” he says. “I wanted to do other things.”
He has. After stints as a successful singer, restaurateur and theatrical producer, in 1992 Corley and two partners formed Neverland Films, which produced February’s noirish Palmetto with Woody Harrelson and Elisabeth Shue.
But Corley’s most challenging role has been as father to Sophie, the oldest of his and wife Jessika Cardinahl’s three children. Born with Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes severe mental and physical handicaps, Sophie, now 11, weighs only 31 pounds and can neither walk nor talk. “People may see my wife and me pushing a carriage, and they might think we’re the perfect couple,” says Corley, who wed Cardinahl, a German actress, in 1989, just before the birth of daughter Ruby (son Clyde is 6). “But they don’t know about Sophie’s condition, because she’s under a blanket.”
Those afflicted with the extremely rare nonhereditary disorder often live well into adulthood. When Sophie was born, says Corley, “I went through all the phases—great sadness, the ‘Why us?’ bitterness.” Rejecting putting her in an institution, Corley and Cardinahl (who runs the Children of Move, an annual fundraiser for therapeutic equipment to help improve mobility for those with Wolf-Hirschhorn and other disorders) care for Sophie themselves with help from a weekend assistant. In their four-bedroom L.A. home, says Corley, “we put her in the middle of the room, and the other kids play around her. We try to keep her involved.”
Hard to believe the doting dad once specialized in playing “troubled sons,” as he recalls with a grin. Raised in Springfield, Mo., the son of an ironworker, Corley “couldn’t get to New York quick enough,” he says. There he worked as a doorman at Studio 54 while studying acting. Parts in TV movies took him to L.A., where he soon landed on Dynasty. Of Corley’s departure, says Bo Hopkins, who played oil rigger Matthew Blaisdel, “I wasn’t surprised. Al wanted to expand. Being in a series for a long time puts a stamp on you.” There was another reason, says Corley: “I was in love.”
With none other than Carly Simon, then a mother of two who had recently split from husband James Taylor. Simon urged Corley to pursue a recording career, and he hit the charts with his 1985 single “Square Rooms.” But the relationship soured soon after. “I wanted children, and I don’t think she wanted more,” says Corley. The two remain friends: Last year, Simon wrote a song for Deadly Measures, a Neverland thriller.
Corley took his heavy heart on a concert tour of Europe, where he met Cardinahl. “She was like a cross between Nastassja Kinski and Ingrid Bergman,” he says. He also befriended Bart Rosenblatt, a financier who helped him produce Off-Broadway plays back in New York City, where Corley also opened the trendy restaurant Memphis.
In 1991, Corley moved his family to L.A. before starting Neverland with Rosenblatt and Eugene Musso. In off-hours, he teaches acting and shoots hoops with Palmetto pal Harrelson. But his life revolves around home. “Since I’ve met Al,” says Rosenblatt, “he’s matured. He’s more responsible.” Sophie’s struggle, Corley says, has put “life in a clearer perspective. She’s like a spirit for us. She doesn’t react in normal ways, but we have our own sort of dialogue. She’s the sweetest little girl.”
John Griffiths in Los Angeles