On July 7, 1975, a 22-year-old Ilene Kristen made her debut as the love-to-hate-her antagonist Delia Ryan on the soap Ryan’s Hope. She played Delia off and on until the series came to an end in 1989 and also has the honor of being nominated for the Soap Opera Digest Award for Outstanding Villainess for a litany of bad behavior, including sleeping with her husband’s brother, faking blindness, and pushing her spouse down a flight of stairs and paralyzing him.
However, the end of the series would hardly be the end of the road for Kristen—or for Delia. Read on to find out where Delia Ryan ended up and what Ilene Kristen is doing now at age 69.
In addition to acting, Kristen has been performing music since the 1970s and writing songs since the’90s. She made her mark in pop culture history when she originated the role of Patty Simcox in Grease on Broadway, but until recently, she kept her musical talent “on the down-low,” telling Michael Fairman TV in 2008 that her high standards kept her from pursuing a more music-focused career. “My criteria have always been very high,” she said. “I listen to Joe Williams and Ella Fitzgerald, just the great people…I feel if I am not as good as those people, I don’t count.”
However in 2015, Kristen at last found the courage to put out her first album around her 62nd birthday. “I’m very proud of a CD I did called I’m Not Done With U Yet…I was inspired,” she later told The Mama Rose Show of the album, which features sultry vocals and original songs inspired by subjects including Sept. 11 and the death of her friend and Ryan’s Hope co-star Nancy Addison.
Thirty years after briefly rejoining Ryan’s Hope as Delia in 1983, Kristen appeared on the spinoff General Hospital for a number of episodes in late 2013, when it was revealed she was the biological mother of the character Ava Jerome. She made a handful of more appearances as Delia through 2015.
Going back to another project from early in her career, Kristen also contributed to Grease, Tell Me More, Tell Me More: Stories from the Broadway Phenomenon That Started It All, a history of the musical’s origins, to be released on June 7, the 50th anniversary of the show’s Broadway debut. As part of the anniversary celebrations, she also reunited in February 2022 with original cast members Carole Demas and James Canning for a concert.
Kristen has lived in the same Upper West Side apartment since 1977 and now resides there with her boyfriend Gary Donatelli, a daytime television director who worked on One Life to Live from 1998 to 2011 alongside Kristen’s tenure as hairdresser Roxy Balsom.
While Kristen rarely shares details about their personal life, she has given the occasional glimpse at their relationship. She noted that, after both were nominated multiple times for Daytime Emmys but only he won, Donatelli gifted her one of his trophies.
“Gary felt terrible that I hadn’t gotten one, so he rededicated one of his to me,” she said in a Soaps in Depth look inside their apartment in 2021. “It was a very, very lovely gift.”
In 2020, Kristen joined a cast of soap and Broadway regulars to play Dolly Faye in the pilot for the old-school soap-inspired Logo TV drama Mélange, created by Tom D’Angora, directed by Donatelli and starring Morgan Fairchild.
Dubbed the “Gay Dynasty,” the series was to focus on the battle for a historic gay bar after the death of its owner. D’Angora said in 2020 that a full season was in the works and would “start filming the moment the [coronavirus pandemic] lockdown is lifted.” As of 2022, the pilot has been marked private and the series’ website URL is defunct, so it appears the show may have been an unfortunate casualty of the pandemic.
For more celebrity updates sent right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
While best known for her television work, Kristen is no stranger to the stage and is a member of the Ensemble Studio Theater. According to her website, she can also often be found “performing a captivating and sensual catalogue of her own original music regularly in the New York City cabaret scene.”
In October 2021, Kristen appeared in the play 1-2-3 Manhunt as Millie at The Theater for the New City. Set on the roof of a Lower East Side tenement, the play took “an unflinching view at what gentrification and ‘progress’ have wrought—and the importance of friendships and owning your own sins no matter how difficult or painful the consequences,” according to the official synopsis.