HOLLYWOOD—“As The World Turns” announced on Sunday, May 2, the death of Helen Wagner, who for 54 years played Nancy Hughes on the soap opera. Wagner, 91, passed away on Saturday, May 1.
Wagner spoke the first words on “As The World Turns” when the show premiered on April 2, 1956, and holds the Guinness World Record for playing the same role on television for the longest amount of time. 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 Lubbock, Texas.
“All of us at ‘As The World Turns’ are deeply saddened by Helen’s passing,” said Christopher Goutman, Executive Producer. “She is loved by generations of fans and while we will miss her greatly, Helen will always remain the heart and soul of ‘As The World Turns.’”
Wagner was born on September 3, 1918, in Lubbuck, Texas. Wagner also studied at Monmouth College in Illinois, earning degrees in dramatics and music. While working at her first professional stage job singing with the St. Louis Municipal Opera, Wagner caught the eye of Oscar Hammerstein, who then cast Wagner in the Broadway production of Sunny River.
Wagner’s other Broadway credits include Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” “The Bad Seed,” “My Name Is Acquilon” and “Love of Four Colonels.” She toured as Blanche in “A Streetcar Named Desire” with Lee Marvin, and appeared in regional theater in Illinois as Eleanor in “The Lion in Winter” and in all of the women’s roles in “Lovers and Other Strangers.”
Before joining “As The World Turns” in 1956, Wagner appeared on a number of television programs including “Studio One,” “Philco Radio Television” and “The World of Mr. Sweeney.”
However, after joining “ATWT,” Helen devoted her professional life to bringing Nancy Hughes to the small screen and over the years, she’s made a great impression to viewers of all generations. One of Wagner’s longtime costars include Eileen Fulton, who has starred as Lisa on the soap since 1960. Fulton tells Canyon News, “Helen and I worked together for 50 years. Chris [Goutman] was so good to her. He made sure she was able to get to the studio to work whenever she was scheduled to do so. On Thursday we are filming my 50th anniversary scenes, and I have all of these scenes with Helen. I don’t know what they are going to do,” said Fulton. “I know she’s in heaven, but leave it to Helen to upstage me again.”
Wagner was married to Broadway producer Robert Willey from June, 1954 until his death in May 2009.