— -- It’s a wrap for one of soap opera’s most famous leading men.
Actor Anthony Geary is leaving ABC’s “General Hospital” after 37 years of playing daytime television’s dark and dreamy Luke Spencer.
“He was not created to be a heroic character,” Geary told “Nightline.” “He was created to be an anti-hero and I have treasured the anti-side of the hero and pushed it for a long time.”
“He’s not a white hat or a black hat he’s all shades of grey,” he continued. “And that has been the saving grace of playing him all these years.”
On the show, Geary’s character Luke is quirky and impulsive, brash and sassy, but what he’s most recognized for is his thick swath of hair. His “do” helped propel Geary to fame in the early ‘80s when he became one half of the soap super couple, Luke and Laura Spencer.
“The relationship between Luke and Laura was always very real, very realistic, like a real relationship, but the circumstances were absurd,” said actress Genie Francis, who plays Laura.
Their characters experienced grand adventures, kidnappings, breakdowns and parenting struggles with their two children. But it was Luke and Laura’s lavish wedding in 1981 that was a defining moment for the show. Thirty million people tuned in, making it the largest audience in daytime television history.
But their romance began in an unlikely and shocking place after Luke raped Laura. Even at the time when the episode aired, the horrific circumstances drew outrage.
“I had a very upsetting appearance in Chicago early on when a group of women started chanting ‘Luke, rape me’ and it was so bizarre, so upsetting,” Geary said. “We came under a lot of fire from feminist groups and rightfully so from victim groups.”
Luke and Laura’s on-again, off-again romance became a central plot line for the show for years, until the characters divorced in 2001. But Geary said he believed their relationship was doomed to fail from the start.
“If you look at the way it started, it was sort of fated to end badly,” he said. “They had two children that they adore but they grew apart… In a soap, you can’t just have them go off into the sunset together unless you’re going to have the characters leave the show. So, to stay on the show, there has to be conflict.”
But even as Geary prepares to leave the show, his timeless character is continuing to go through shocking revelations. Most recently, Luke had to confront his dark past and realizes he killed his own parents.
“I loved the-- finally the realization and the experience of fully getting away from romantic hero into a dark, dangerous side of his personality,” Geary said. “It’s always been laying there.”
That unpredictable bravado has won Geary a record eight daytime Emmy awards.
Luke’s current love interest, Tracy Quartermaine, is played by Jane Elliott, who is Geary’s best friend in real life and talked about what it will be like to move on without him on the show.
“Being on a soap opera for that long it’s like life,” Elliott told “Nightline.” “You live a life, you’ve gone through birthdays and deaths and marriages and divorces and illnesses and sickness and in health. And, he’s been a part of the last 12 years of my life… Tracy can’t see her life without him and Jane can’t see her life without him either.”
As Geary played out his final scenes, Elliott said it was hard for everyone.
“We just played our last scenes together… It was extremely emotional,” she said, “Everyone onstage was crying and it was so emotional, so emotional.”
Before Luke takes his last bow, he has a reunion of sorts with Laura, as the iconic duo tries to free their son from a kidnapper.
“Luke and Laura together one more time, one last adventure,” Francis said. “So hard to say, makes me weepy.”
Geary is looking forward to continuing with the next chapter of his real life story. He plans to move to Amsterdam full-time and work on a book while pursuing theater. But playing Luke may have been his greatest challenge yet.