"He opened doors for people who don’t even realize he opened doors, but he did. He opened doors and he was so committed to his craft. He always wanted to be better. He wanted to touch people and he did," Shemar Moore said about Kristoff St. John
“I’m raised an only child, but Kristoff is truly the closest thing to a brother and a brother’s love and a brother’s mentorship that I’ve ever known,” Moore tells PEOPLE about St. John, who unexpectedly died on Sunday at age 52.
St. John and Moore, 48, starred opposite one another on The Young & the Restless, on which St. John played Neil Winters — since 1991 — and Moore played his half-brother, Malcolm Winters.
Remembering his early days on CBS’ long-running soap opera, Moore recalls St. John coming alongside him and being a strong support system.
“He didn’t have to embrace me the way he did. When I came in and was trying to find my way and he saw how scared I was, he saw how nervous I was,” Moore says. “He saw my six pack and all that, but he just saw me and he embraced me like a brother. If he hadn’t embraced me, I would have never got my sure footing in the beginning days.”
Moore, who went on to star in Criminal Minds and S.W.A.T., credits St. John for propelling his career.
“Without Kristoff St. John, there’s no Neil Winters. Without Neil Winters, there’s no opportunity for Malcolm Winters. And without Malcolm Winters, there’s no Shemar Moore. And if Shemar Moore didn’t get my chance to try on The Young & the Restless, then I don’t sit here today with let alone this career or this life. Not in this way. And I will give Kristoff, and I always have given Kristoff — and I’m not just saying this to be cute because of what’s happening today — I told him in the beginning because he embraced me the way he embraced me is the only reason that I have the life and career that I have,” explains Moore.
“I would have life, but it would have been on a very different tangent and a very different lane. I will always give Kristoff that credit. I will always thank The Young & the Restless for taking a chance on me so that I can have this career. Kristoff was there in the trenches with me. Victoria Rowell, Tonya Lee Williams,” he adds of his fellow The Young & the Restless castmates, “but Kristoff, day to day to day, he rooted for me. He didn’t have to. He didn’t have to, and many wouldn’t, but he rooted for me; he helped me; he held my hand; he said, ‘Stick with me, bruh, I’m going to show you the way and then you do what you’re doing.’ “
But it wasn’t just Moore’s career that St. John championed — he unknowingly paved the path for many more Hollywood actors and actresses who later joined the entertainment industry.
Says Moore, “He was the sexiest black man on television from what my aunties and grandmothers told me before I’d ever knew that I was ever going to share the stage with him on The Young & the Restless.”
“He opened doors for me and many. He opened doors for people who don’t even realize he opened doors, but he did,” he says. “He opened doors and he was so committed to his craft. He always wanted to be better. He wanted to touch people and he did.”
On Monday, the coroner’s office told PEOPLE that St. John was found dead at a home in Woodland Hills on Sunday. He was pronounced deceased at 4:02 p.m.
According to the Los Angeles Police Department, a death investigation took place at around 2:05 p.m. for a possible alcohol overdose at the 2300 block of Morea Way. According to TMZ, which first reported the news, the actor’s body was found after one of his friends went to check on him at his home.
St. John’s death came two weeks after he mourned the loss of his son Julian with ex-wife Mia St. John. Julian, who struggled with mental illness, died by suicide four years ago at age 24. On Jan. 21, St. John retweeted someone’s post about losing a child that reads, “Grieving the loss of a child is a process. It begins on the day your child passes, and ends the day the parent joins them.”
“Never a truer word was spoke,” tweeted St. John, who is survived by his fiancée, Kseniya Mikhaleva, daughter Paris (with Mia), and daughter Lola (with ex-wife Allana Nadal). “Thanks for posting this.”
Despite the heartbreak that St. John experienced over the loss of his son, Moore remembers his castmate as being “silly” and “goofy.”
“He’s clearly been through a s— ton of adversity. He lost his son — you don’t wish that on your worst enemy. He had his issues, but he was strong, he persevered,” he says.
“I think yesterday, he was tired — he was just really tired and I’m sorry I couldn’t have been there more,” he says, referring to St. John’s death. “It’s not my fault, it’s not anybody’s fault. But as sad as it is, and it’s f—— sad, like I said, it hasn’t sat with me. But his heart was undeniable. He’s a goofy motherf—–, he’s a silly goofy motherf—–. He’s so goofy. … He’s a silly dude, but he’s so talented.”
WATCH: ‘Young and the Restless’ Star Kristoff St. John Dead at 52: Report
While St. John’s death came as a shock, Moore hopes the love he had for his children and family members will transcend the sadness.
“This is not how he’s going to be remembered in his last days. He’s going to be remembered for his journey, for how much he loved his children — Paris, Lola, and Julian, his son who had a hard time and took his life. And Kristoff, he weathered that storm and he loved me and he loved Allana and his current fiancée, I don’t know her name — I never met her — but I was just excited him to see him in love again, just in love, somebody to share his heart with,” says Moore.
Moore also paid tribute to St. John on Instagram, writing, “Mr KRISTOFF ST JOHN….. There is no ME without YOU!!!!! You are MY BROTHER!!! I LOVE YOU!!! Sleep my dude…. REST IN PEACE… I’ll finish what YOU started!!! THANK YOU for YOUR HEART and TALENT!!!!!”
Now, as Moore — and many others who knew the late actor — continues to grieve, he’s making sure that St. John’s legacy is never forgotten.
“With everything I’ve done, I’ve just wanted to make him proud and he’s always let me know how proud of me he is. I’m just so proud to have come into his life, worked with him on stage. This sucks, this f—— sucks,” he tearfully says. “I love him. I miss him, but I will always celebrate him and everything I do will be with the intent to make him proud.”