The daytime community lost one of its most beloved members today when Agnes Nixon, creator of both All My Children and One Life to Live, passed away at the age of 93 from pneumonia resulting from Parkinson's disease.
Known as the "Grand Dame of Daytime Serial Drama," the Illinois native was a trailblazer in the industry, credited with pioneering the first daytime cancer storyline (on Guiding Light) as well as some of the first stories dealing with race and LGBT issues.
The daughter of Harry Joseph and Agnes Patricia (née Dalton) Eckhardt, Nixon attended Northwestern University where she studied drama alongside Charlton Heston and Patricia Neal. She was said to have felt "outclassed" as an actor and instead turned her attention to writing.
Just days after earning a bachelor's degree in the late 1940s, Nixon worked writing radio soaps under another industry icon, Irna Phillips, who created shows such as Guiding Light, Another World, and As The World Turns. She was writing for shows such as GL and AW when she created AW's Rachel Cory Hutchins (Robin Strasser), known as an early prototype for her most arguably famous character, AMC's Erica Kane (Susan Lucci).
"I am devastated to learn that we have lost Agnes. I adored her and admired her -- and I am forever grateful to her! May this liveliest and loveliest of women rest in peace," Susan Lucci (Erica Kane) shared on Instagram.
However, it would be awhile before Erica saw the light of day. Though Nixon had finished the bible for AMC in the mid-1960s, ABC executives passed on the program and asked for something a bit more "contemporary" instead. The result was Nixon's other beloved soap opera, 1968's OLTL, a soap that was rich in issue stories and included Jewish, Polish-American, and the first African American soap opera leads (Ellen Holly's Carla Gray and Al Freeman Jr.'s Ed Hall).
When it became clear OLTL was a hit, ABC finally gave the green light to AMC, which premiered in 1970. Nixon once again pushed the limits of daytime, introducing storylines that centered around the anti-war movement, homosexuality, the AIDS epidemic, and television's first on-screen abortion.
"On the social issues, whether the Vietnam War or abortion or racism, I never thought I could change the way most people felt," Nixon told the Catholic magazine America in 2002. "I just wanted to show the unfairness of it, the inequality, the injustice."
Nixon's status as a soap opera pioneer nearly never happened -- and the reason why is something right out of one of her scripts. Relatively uncommon in the 1930s and 1940s, Nixon's parents divorced when she was an infant, and Nixon suffered from what she called "abandonment issues." Her father tried to crush Nixon's dreams of becoming a writer because he wanted his daughter to follow his footsteps and be part of his burial garments business. In fact, it was her father that arranged the meeting between Nixon and Irna Phillips with the hopes that Phillips would crush Agnes' dreams of pursuing a career in writing. It ended with Phillips hiring Nixon.
"It was one of the greatest moments of my life. It was freedom," Nixon later said.
Nixon isn't just responsible for the magic that happened in Pine Valley and Llanview. The soap opera legend also created Loving, which ran from 1983 to 1995, and she co-created The City, which ran from 1995 to 1997.
Nixon's contributions to the world of daytime touched the hearts of many over several decades, earning the entertainment professional a position in the Television Hall of Fame in 1992, a position in the Soap Opera Hall of Fame at a Planet Hollywood restaurant in 1994, a Trustees Award for Continued Excellence from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in 1981, and the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2010 Daytime Emmy Awards.
In the late 1970s, Nixon sold both One Life to Live and All My Children to ABC. In a 1998 interview with the Los Angeles Times, she shared, "I loved the writing and I hated the business."
"There would be no ABC daytime without Agnes Nixon," said Frank Valentini, former executive producer of One Life to Live and current executive producer of General Hospital.
Sadly, All My Children ended its network run in 2011 after 41 years on ABC, while OLTL ended in 2012. Both shows were briefly revived online in 2013.
"It is with a heavy heart I mourn the passing of television pioneer Agnes Nixon, someone I was proud to call a friend," Robert A. Iger, chairman and CEO, The Walt Disney Company, said in a statement. "Agnes' impact on daytime television and pop culture is undeniable. She was the first to champion socially relevant topics, and the towns and characters Agnes brought to life leave an indelible imprint on television that will be remembered forever. On behalf of Walt Disney and ABC, I want to extend our deepest condolences to her family."
In a time when many may think of soap operas as a relic of the past, the iconic soap pioneer's name trended for much of the day on Twitter.
Agnes Nixon is survived by her children, Catherine Chicos, and Mary, Robert, and Emily Nixon; 10 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
A visitation will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, September 30, at McConaghy Funeral Home, 328 Lancaster Ave., in Ardmore, PA. A Funeral Mass will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, October 1, at St. Thomas of Villanova Rosemont Chapel, 1229 East Lancaster Ave., Rosemont, PA.
Donations may be made to National Parkinson Foundation, 200 SE 1st St., Suite 800, Miami FL 33131 or to Wilmer Eye Institute, 600 N. Wolfe St., Baltimore, MD 21287.
And Nixon's greatest story may still be on the way. The prolific writer recently put the finishing touches on her autobiography, My Life to Live.
Would you like to leave your condolences for Nixon's family? What are some of your favorite Agnes Nixon characters and creations? Share your thoughts and memories in the Comments section below, on our message boards, or by submitting Feedback.