Daytime Emmy-nominated actress Marj Dusay (ex-Alexandra Spaulding, Guiding Light; ex-Vanessa Bennett, All My Children) died on January 28 at the age of 83. Her friend, Tom Weaver, announced the sad news on Facebook.
Born Marjorie Ellen Pivonka Mahoney on February 20, 1936, in Russell, Kansas, Dusay was bitten by the acting bug at the University of Kansas, where she appeared in several stage productions and was also crowned the school's Homecoming Queen. She later moved to Los Angeles, where she became a founding member of the Session, an improvisational comedy group that included actors like Rob Reiner and Richard Dreyfuss.
Dusay's first acting roles came in 1967, when she landed episodes in the television series Cimarron Strip, Occasional Wife, Get Smart, and The Second Hundred Years. She went on to appear in many more TV shows like The F.B.I., Barnaby Jones, Hogan's Heroes, and Bret Maverick before landing her first soap opera role in 1983, as the replacement for Carolyn Jones as the powerful Washington, DC, matriarch Myrna Clegg on Capitol.
Upon Capitol's cancellation in 1987, Dusay went on to take over the role of Pamela Conrad on Santa Barbara (previously played by Shirly Ann Field), which she played from 1987 to 1988 and again in 1991. She also briefly stepped into the role of Days of our Lives' Vivian Alamain in 1993 when original portrayer Louise Sorel was on medical leave. Later that same year, Dusay once again became a recast when she took over the role of Guiding Light character Alexandra Spaulding, who had previously been played by the enormously popular actress Beverlee McKinsey. Dusay played the role of GL's Alexandra until 1997, garnering a Daytime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress for her work in 1995. She later returned for a brief stint from November of 1998 to February of 1999.
After several years of playing a recast on a slew of soaps, the ABC drama series All My Children finally gave Dusay the opportunity to create a brand-new character: Vanessa Bennett, the evil drug lord mother of Dr. David Hayward (Vincent Irizarry) and Leo DuPres (Josh Duhamel). Dusay played the role from 1999 to 2002, when the powers that be decided to kill the character in a dramatic showdown in which Leo grabbed his lunatic mother and jumped off the edge of Miller's Falls after she tried to kill his wife, Greenlee (Rebecca Budig). The bodies of Vanessa and Leo were never found, but they have been presumed dead ever since.
At the end of 2002, Dusay was once again persuaded to return to the role of Guiding Light's Alexandra, this time replacing Joan Collins, who left three months into a six-month contract. In 2005, however, Dusay was forced to drop down to a recurring status when the show had to let several actors out of their contracts due to severe budget cuts. Dusay remained with GL until the CBS soap's cancelation in 2009.
Though Dusay is primarily known for her soap roles, she also has a long list of film credits. Her motion picture debut was with Elvis Presley in Clam Bake, and her other feature film credits include MacArthur, Breezy, Made in Heaven, Love Walked In, and Sweet November.
In addition to acting, Dusay was able to master a number of dialects over the years and became a gifted impressionist who was able to do convincing impressions of celebrities like Katharine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Maggie Smith, and Julia Child. She was also an avid golfer and a gifted equestrian, having trained her own horses as a child to ride in saddle club shows and riding contests.
Dusay served as the Kansas Film Commissioner from 1984 to 1998 and was very active in the organization's efforts to bring the film world to her home state of Kansas. She lent her name and support to AIDS support organization Project Angel Food as well as several child abuse prevention organizations. She resided in Manhattan and was the mother of actress Deborah Dusay Blocker and the late Randall Dusay, who died of AIDS in 1993. Both children were from her 1955-1962 marriage to John Dusay. The actress was also the grandmother of Deena Randall.
All My Children alum Carrie Genzel (ex-Skye Chandler) was one of the first to honor Dusay via a social media post upon her passing.
"I am heartbroken to hear of the passing of Marj Dusay," she wrote. "We had mutual friends in NYC and she was always so welcoming and wonderful to me. My heart goes out to her friends and family, and her many fans who appreciated her on and off camera."
I am heartbroken to hear of the passing of #MarjDusay. We had mutual friends in NYC and she was always so welcoming and wonderful to me. My heart goes out to her friends and family, and, her many fans who appreciated her on and off camera. #RIP ❤️- Carrie Genzel (@carrie_genzel) January 29, 2020
Emmy winner Vincent Irizarry, who played Dusay's on-screen son on Guiding Light and later on All My Children, offered "love, respect & sadness" and recalled Dusay as "a force of nature as an actress, courageously pulling out all stops in whatever role she was gracing us with.
Honestly,not enough words allotted here 2 share my love, respect & sadness 4 our now late,great Marj Dusay.She was a force of nature as an actress,courageously pulling out all stops in whatever role she was gracing us with. RIP darling Marj.Your gift was our blessing. #4evrgr8ful pic.twitter.com/3SJhpyoZo1— Vincent Irizarry (@VincentIrizarry) January 29, 2020
Another of Dusay's on-screen kids, Lisa Welchel, who played Blair Warner on The Facts of Life, called Dusay "absolutely perfect for the part" of Monica and "a seasoned actress and a delightful woman. It was a privilege to call her Facts of Life family."
On a Facebook fan page devoted to Dusay, Elizabeth Perine, who identified herself as the actress' stepdaughter, shared news of Dusay's passing. "I'm so very sad to tell you that my stepmother Marj passed away peacefully yesterday in her sleep," she wrote. "She was quite a woman and had quite a grand life. She was deeply loved and will be deeply missed.
Ron Raines (Alan Spaulding), who played Dusay's on-screen brother, also took to social media to address Dusay's passing. "Heartbroken by the loss of my dear friend and colleague Marj Dusay. Marj was a dear friend to me and I will miss her greatly," he wrote. Raines also revealed that "Marj lived with much physical pain the last decades of her life however, and this is what's amazing, she never complained. I will miss her and glad she is pain free now."
Heartbroken by the loss of my dear friend and colleague Marj Dusay. Marj was a dear friend to me and I will miss her greatly. I, with a couple of other GL colleagues, visited her last year here in New York and we all had a wonderful visit. She was, as always, in terrific spirits— Ron Raines (@RonRaines) January 29, 2020
And made us laugh a lot. We all talked of specific memories we shared with her while on set. Marj lived with much physical pain the last decades of her life however, and this is what's amazing, she never complained. I will miss her and glad she is pain free now. RIP dear Marj.— Ron Raines (@RonRaines) January 29, 2020
Dusay's former Guiding Light costar Tina Sloan (Lillian Raines) remembered Dusay as a "Great actress" and a "Great woman."
Lost the wonderful Marj Dusay aka Alexandra Spaulding. Great actress. Great woman. She will be very missed. RIP MARJ— tina sloan (@tinasloan) January 29, 2020
More tributes are expected to pour in from the soap opera community as news of Dusay's death continues to spread. Keep checking back to Soap Central for those tributes as they come.
Would you like to leave your condolences for Dusay? What are some of your favorite memories of the actress in her numerous soap opera roles? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.