The pressure on young soap stars during the genre’s heyday is getting lots of press these days. First, Kristina Wagner opened up about the glare of the spotlight and now, Genie Francis is talking about her experience as a part of a “super couple” with Anthony Geary on General Hospital in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
On a recent episode of Oprah: Where Are They Now? special, Francis shared why she left the show at the height of her fame. At 19 years old, the daytime star walked away from the role while she was battling a drug and alcohol addiction. While that wasn’t revealed at the time of her departure, it explained her fragile mental state.
“I was having trouble with drugs and alcohol. I ended up one night in the hospital. The very next day I was told, ‘I’m sorry, you’re going to have to come back to work tomorrow morning,'” she said in the video clip. “So I got back to work and somebody came up to my door and knocked. It was an awful moment in which I was told, ‘You know what they said about you? They said it didn’t matter if you lived or you died because Tony was the whole show.’ ”
That’s a difficult statement for anyone to process, but even more challenging for someone like Francis, who was dealing with addiction in her late teens.
“So I just decided that I don’t matter and I’m nothing… OK, watch this, I’m gone,” she said. “I was angry. It was a hotheaded decision. I went a long distance to prove a point — a very long distance. And it hurt me, too.”
Francis spent 12 years away from GH and starred in an unsuccessful prime-time soap, Bare Essence. She moved to New York City and tried to pursue a career in the theater.
In a 1983 interview with People magazine, the soap star did harbor some regrets about leaving the show.
“Before, I was so caught up in the whirlwind, I didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy what was happening,” she described her time on GH. “I never realized what a big thing I was.”
Other than a brief return to the GH in 1983 to coincide with Geary’s departure from the soap, Francis hopped around on other soaps during her 12-year absence. She admits she needed the work, and her fame was used for publicity on some of those shows.
“It was hard sometimes to be on those shows because often they wanted my celebrity, but wouldn’t write a real role,” Francis frankly explained. “It took them about six months on Days of Our Lives to get me an actual role that worked. I wanted to work and I took the work that was offered.”
However, coming home in 1993 to GH was one of the sweetest things that could have ever happened to her career.
“It was really, really lovely,” she said “First of all, the place had completely changed. The crazy ’80s, they were over. I was now 31 years old. I felt that I had gained the respect of my peers a bit.”
In the end, Francis did earn the respect of her peers with a 2007 Daytime Emmy win for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. She also proved you can go home again.