Anthony Geary (aka Luke Spencer, his character’s name) is leaving General Hospital “for good” after more than three decades. The 67-year-old actor has been with the television soap opera since 1978, when he was hired for a 13-week storyline.
Geary’s character, Luke, who has now appeared in more than 800 episodes, will be written out this summer. Some are wondering if the departure is permanent this time. The actor first left the show in 1984, but returned eventually. After winning a record eight Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor for his General Hospital efforts, Geary now claims to be “weary of the grind,” having played Luke Spencer for more than half of his life.
Frank Valentini, executive producer of the ABC soap, issued a statement about the departure. “After 37 years on the air, Tony felt this was the right time to bid adieu to Luke Spencer, Port Charles (the fictional New York city in which the show is based) and General Hospital. Anthony is our friend and a part of our television family, but, as difficult as this may be, we understand and respect that this is his choice.” However, he also implied that the door will remain open for the character to return if Geary wants to come back.
In the days of binge watching, time shifting and Web-based shows, it is hard to recall the tremendous popularity soap operas used to enjoy, particularly General Hospital in the 1980s. The wedding of Luke Spencer and Laura Webber, on Nov. 16-17, 1981, drew 30 million viewers, who had to watch in real time with VCRs relatively new and on-demand viewing nonexistent. (Even Elizabeth Taylor, a fan, was present for the nuptials, being written in as Helena Cassadine, a character that was later recast and has been a Spencer nemesis on and off since then.)
Putting the 30 million 1981 General Hospital viewers in perspective – the Game of Thrones premiere this year drew 18.1 million. Two of last night’s most popular TV shows, The Big Bang Theory and Grey’s Anatomy, drew 14.3 million and 7.9 million, respectively. Those shows aired at night. General Hospital is on during daytime, so those 30 million viewers took breaks from work and school to tune in.
Viewership of General Hospital today is nowhere near its heights of popularity, but it is one of the few soap operas that remain. The show celebrated its 50th anniversary two years ago.
In 37 years, Geary’s character has been written into a variety of suffered many trials and tribulations since then in true soap opera style. Geary’s character has never worked at the titular hospital and has always been a shady, ex-mobster anti-hero, except for a weird period when he was mayor. Unlike his Port Charles-based peers, sister and niece, Luke Spencer has only been married to two women (both more than once). His children have grown up on the show and given him grandchildren., which has enabled his character to flit in and out of story lines.
After 50 years in the business and more than 30 years after accepting a short-time role, Anthony Geary aka Luke Spencer are leaving General Hospital behind, probably for good. However, Geary emphasizes that this is not retirement. He owns a home in Amsterdam and is striving “to be so fluent in Dutch that I can pursue film or theater work over there.” He noted that there are always American actors featured “in European films. I don’t see why I shouldn’t be one of them.”
By Dyanne Weiss