As General Hospital fans mourn the death of Peter Hansen at the age of 95, many will remember him as one of the cast members who made General Hospital a global phenomenon during the Luke and Laura heyday. However, his contributions to the show — including his alcoholism storyline — were even more significant than younger fans may even realize.
Hansen, who joined the cast in 1965, played Lee Baldwin, a lawyer who was considered an upstanding member of his community. But his character had a secret: a drinking problem. This storyline earned him an Outstanding Supporting Actor Daytime Emmy in 1979, the first year this category was created.
While an alcoholism storyline doesn’t seem revolutionary in 2017, it was in 1979. At the time, men were less likely to be portrayed as alcoholics on screen versus women and there were stereotypes surrounding anyone who was an alcoholic. In Richard Dyer’s 1977 book, The Matter of Images: Essays on Representations, he talks about how Hollywood portrayed alcoholism.
"We surely only have to be told that we are going to see a film about an alcoholic to know that it will be a tale either of sordid decline or of inspiring redemption," Dyer wrote.
Hansen’s storyline on GH fell somewhere in between. He was a flawed man with so much potential that was being restricted by his alcohol issues. He put a face to addiction through his honest portrayal.
Unlike a sitcom that would neatly tie up his addiction in 22 minutes, GH made it a part of his everyday life. Lee Baldwin became a volunteer addiction counselor at General Hospital. The soap didn’t shy away from the highs and the lows of being a recovering alcoholic.
Even though Scotty Baldwin was Lee’s adopted son, the younger Baldwin spiraled out of control with his own alcohol issues during his love triangle with Luke and Laura. It created some wonderful father-son moments about open and honest communication during dark times. He always stood by his son — no matter what he was going through.
Soaps have always pushed society’s boundaries and been ahead of the curve when it comes to covering controversial topics. GH made sure to make Lee Baldwin’s recovery an important part of his daily life. They didn’t just drop it once he was sober.
In 1983, GH once again drilled the fact that society often holds an addiction against the people who are doing their best to live an honest life. Alcoholism and the workplace came to the forefront when Lee was running for mayor against Luke. Luke’s campaign manager threatened to use Lee’s alcoholic past to smear his honor.
By portraying various stages of alcoholism for 39 years on GH and Port Charles, Hansen allowed some families to start a dialogue, to communicate about a disease that affects an entire family and give a face to addiction. Hansen never discussed how effective his work was about breaking down societal stereotypes, but his legacy and impact have been felt for decades.
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