Daytime television has lost one of its legendary figures.
Helen Wagner, who played Nancy Hughes, matriarch of AS THE WORLD TURNS, died over the weekend at age 91. Wagner was listed in the Guiness Book of World Records for her longevity in the same role on television: a total of 54 years.
It was Wagner’s “Good morning, Dear,” that opened the very first episode of AS THE WORLD TURNS in 1956. Wagner was also on the air live when Walter Cronkite broke in with the first national report that President John Kennedy had been shot in 1963.
Nancy Hughes was one of those rare soap characters who always remained true to her own beliefs, never engaging in the affairs and other bad behavior that has permeated soaps since their earliest days.
“Helen was beloved by everyone who had the good fortune to work with her,” Barbara Bloom, CBS Senior Vice President of Daytime Programs, said. “She was the consummate professional who made Nancy Hughes the mother, wife and grandmother we all wanted to have. We will miss her tremendously, and always treasure the years we spent with her in Oakdale.”
In 2004, Wagner was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. In 2002, she received a plaque on the Buddy Holly Walk of Fame in her native Lubbock, Texas.
Wagner’s last appearance on the show came just last month during an anniversary celebration for the characters of Bob and Kim Hughes, who have been on the show for decades themselves.
There is no word, yet, on how her passing will be worked into the show. AS THE WORLD TURNS is scheduled to go off the air for good this September. At least Wagner won’t have to see the end of the show she’d been a part of from its very first day.