'Punky Brewster' star Soleil Moon Frye recalls being 'so in love' with first crush Andy Gibb

Sitting with Yahoo Entertainment on the set of Peacock and Universal Studio Group’s revival of her iconic ‘80s sitcom Punky Brewster, former child star Soleil Moon Frye is in an understandably nostalgic mood. In the reboot, Punky is now a single mother of three, with her ex-husband played by Freddie Prinze Jr. — but the conversation turns to Punky’s first love, the late pop star Andy Gibb, whose death was so poignantly covered in his older brothers’ recent documentary, The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.

Gibb guest-starred on two Punky Brewster episodes in the 1980s, first playing himself as a beauty pageant host, then returning in the role of Punky’s dreamy piano teacher, Tony Glen, making Frye the envy of young girls across America when he serenaded her with the gorgeous ballad “I Can’t Help It.” It was a performance that enthralled even Punky’s grizzled foster dad, Henry, and the show’s onscreen dog, Brandon — and if you watch the YouTube clip, you can freeze it at seemingly the exact moment when Frye’s eyes lit up and she fell for Gibb, hard.

Frye, now 44, similarly lights up when asked about that sweet scene and her memories of Gibb. “OK, first of all, I love you. You're like my bestie for asking that, because we talk about this a lot,” she says, sitting next to her co-star then and now, Cherie Johnson. “We were so in love with him. I still love him so much. The other day we were talking about all of these amazing elements that we remembered, and I said, ‘I can still smell his skin.’ … I can remember so many amazing parts of him.”

Frye, who was 9 years old when the “I Can’t Help It” scene was shot, recalls, “One of the things that stands out most to me is that he was so kind and loving and to be children, where you are kids on a set and to be able to still be a kid and to have someone come in and give you that kind of love and show you that kind of love and respect. He just emanated love. And I carry that with me for all these years.”

Gibb even gifted Frye his sequined jacket from the 1984 beauty pageant episode. “He wrapped it around me, and it was just so beautiful. He was just so kind, and that has always stuck on me — the kindness of what you create and how you interact with people. You know, it does leave a lasting effect. And I think it's just a testament to who he was.”

Andy Gibb and Soleil Moon Frye on 'Punky Brewster' in 1985. (Photo: NBC)
Andy Gibb and Soleil Moon Frye on 'Punky Brewster' in 1985. (Photo: NBC)

Gibb tragically died in 1988, just three years after his second Punky episode aired and five days after his 30th birthday, as a result of myocarditis. Since then, two of Punky Brewster’s regular cast members, George Gaynes (who played Henry) and Susie Garrett (who played Cherie Johnson’s grandmother, Betty), have also passed away. The original Punky series never avoided serious issues, so Frye and Johnson reveal that George and Betty’s deaths will definitely be addressed on the reboot.

“We've definitely feel their spirits every day, and it's not something that [the series' writers] have shied away from. We definitely will talk about Henry and Ms. Johnson,” says Cherie. “I don't think we should give it away, I think you shouldn't have to watch and see, but we do pay homage. ... And they're part of every script.”

“Their heart is definitely in the essence of the show, and I have to say, I feel George and Susie around all the time," says Frye. “And something so beautiful that happened was last week I was given this gift by Oli [Oliver De Los Santos], who plays one of my sons, and it was a journal with my initials on it. I always have loved writing, and one of the first journals I got was from George. And I'll get super-emotional and start crying. But it was so beautiful, because [Gaynes] had given me this beautiful journal when I was about 8 years old — and here Oli, not knowing, all of these years later, gave me the same color journal, both with my initials. And that's when you go, ‘Oh, the angels are watching over us.' And so I genuinely feel George and Susie around. And we feel them every day that we come to work, and their blessings around us.”

The Punky Brewster reboot premieres on Peacock Feb. 25.

Video produced by Jen Kucsak, edited by John Santo.

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