Within the first years of its debut in 1965, Days of our Lives shocked viewers with a story of love and incest. Marie Horton, a young biochemist, began working at Salem University Hospital where she met and fell in love with Dr. Mark Brooks. However, Tom and Alice started to feel Mark wasn’t a stranger, and after some investigation discovered Mark was their son Tommy Horton Jr, who was believed killed in the Korean War. However, after saving another soldier during the war and sustaining injuries, he was given reconstructive surgery on his face. The injuries also left him with amnesia. Marie and Mark were devastated to learn they were siblings.
A Wedding Shocker
Other soap operas have introduced the incest twist over the years. Billy Abbott and Mackenzie Brown on Young & Restless were childhood sweethearts. Shortly after they were wed though, they discovered they were cousins as Billy’s mother Jill Abbott was the daughter of Mackenzie’s grandmother, Katherine Chancellor. Later it was revealed the two were not related after all, and fans of the couple could breathe easier.
Chad and Whitney Give Into Passion
On Passions, Chad Harris and Whitney Russell fell in love as teens, and faced a lot of disapproval from Whitney’s family. Later it was revealed that Chad was Eve and Julian Crane’s child from a long-hidden affair. In spite of the fact that they were half-siblings, they couldn’t fight their passion for one another, even having a son Miles. Many viewers were disgusted by the incestuous love story. By the end of the series, it was revealed Chad was not Eve and Julian’s long lost child, proving there was no blood between them. Sadly though Whitney and Chad never got their happily ever after as Chad was killed by his own father Alistair Crane.
Julian and Vincent’s Child
Passions crossed more boundaries with the character of Vincent Clarkson, who turned out to be the intersexed child of Eve Russell and Julian Crane that Julian’s father Alistair hid away for years. As The Blackmailer, Vincent tormented half the town and committed awful murders. He also seduced Chad Harris-Crane, who at the time he thought was his uncle, and later his own father Julian (while disguised as a woman named Valerie), and became pregnant and gave birth to his father’s son. For many Vincent was a problematic portrayal of the LGBTQ+ community, and for others the incestuous storylines were too much.
Bridget and Ridge Lock Lips
Bold & Beautiful fans were stunned when Bridget Forrester began having impure thoughts about her Uncle Ridge, who she believed was her uncle at the time. Furthermore, he had been married to her mother Brooke a number of times, and she has a half brother in R.J. Forrester from their relationship. However the romance played out, but they didn’t kiss until it was proven Ridge was a Marone and not a biological Forrester. For many though it was too much.
When the Salem Stalker began murdering beloved residents of Salem on Days of our Lives, fans were shocked by the many brutal and violent murders playing out on screen. None was more horrifying than the murder of Alice Horton, the matriarch of the entire show and an original character and cast member since day one. To add insult to injury, she was killed with a poisoned donut, the donut being her signature dish. Viewers were outraged, and fortunately, all the deaths turned out to be elaborate hoaxes.
Erica Kane’s Abortion
In 1973, All My Children’s Erica Kane decided to abort the baby she conceived with her then-husband Jeff Martin. Erica made the choice because she knew she was not ready to be a mother. It was a bold story that angered some conservative viewers, while others felt Erica was a symbol of free choice.
Ashley Terminates Her Pregnancy
Young & Restless also riled viewers when Ashley Abbott decided to secretly terminate her pregnancy by Victor Newman in 1987. The storyline came at a time where the country was in heated debates of the legalities of abortion, and abortion clinics were coming under attack by vigilantes.
Days of our Lives also aired a controversial abortion storyline. At the time Mimi’s character learned she was pregnant with Rex Brady’s child, and feeling she and Rex weren’t ready, Mimi choose to abort the baby. The storyline rattled some viewers because of the heavy presence of the Catholic church and religion on the show, and also because Mimi did not tell Rex about the abortion. Others were angered when Mimi was said to be left infertile after the abortion, which they felt was playing in to untruths about the safety of abortion.
Luke and Laura’s Controversial Rape
General Hospital stirred the pot when Luke raped Laura at the Campus Disco. The show quickly chose to play the storyline early off as a rape-seduction, and at the time viewers ate it up and Luke and Laura became hugely popular. It was only years later the show and actors addressed the fact that Luke raped Laura.
Sami and EJ’s Deal
On Days of our Lives, EJ DiMera had been lusting after Sami Brady for a while, even though she was in love with Lucas Horton at the time. Sami and Lucas went to the mountains on a ski trip, but the cabin’s roof they were staying in collapsed, trapping Lucas. Sami went for help and found EJ DiMera trying to skip town. He agreed to help Lucas if she drove him through a police roadblock, but later upped his terms and demanded she has sex with him, or he’d let Lucas die. She agreed. Fans at the time were torn between whether it was rape or a deal, and was a bone of contention amongst viewers. Eventually, it would later be written as EJ had raped Sami.
One Life to Live viewers were appalled when Marty Saybrooke was ganged raped by Todd Manning and his fraternity brothers Powell Lord and Zach Rosen as part of Todd’s revenge scheme against Marty. For some the storyline was too much, others felt it was impactful and it remains one of the most remembered storylines of the show. Surprisingly, Todd, who was meant to be a short-term character, became popular with viewers, and the show set out crafting him as a complex and flawed character who sought redemption. Some viewers claimed the character was only redeemed because of his good looks.
Booze, Pills and Sex
Bold and Beautiful stirred up a bit of controversy when a drunk Thomas Forrester had sex with Caroline Spencer after she had mixed pills and booze together and was visibly impaired. The debate of whether it was rape or not was sparked among viewers, which was complicated by the fact that Thomas did not know she had taken pills prior. The show wrote the story as Caroline feeling violated, while Thomas believed it was consensual. In another twist the sex led to a pregnancy, which was initially kept from Thomas, turning him into a victim and gaining sympathy.
For General Hospital fans, Franco may be the show’s most divisive character. Initially introduced as a short term crazed serial killing artist played by James Franco, the character not only was a killer, but was obsessed with Jason Morgan, let Sam McCall believe he had raped her, and set events in motion that led to Michael Quartermaine being raped in prison. When the show brought the character back with Roger Howarth in the role, they set out to redeem Franco through the old brain tumor made him do it storyline. Franco also revealed he never touched Sam, only made her think he raped her, and he never meant for Michael to be raped in prison. Many fans still have not forgiven Franco and never will.
While rights and acceptance for LGBTQ+ have come a long way over the past decade, there is still more room for improvement. When Bold & Beautiful chose to reveal that Maya Avant was transgender, many viewers couldn’t accept it. The storyline of Rick Forrester standing by her and marrying her earned praise from various LGBT organizations, but still outraged some viewers.
Days of our Lives also angered some of its more conservative viewers by having Will Horton go on a journey of self-discovery and coming to terms with the fact that he was gay. For some, it was too much of a departure from the character, who had a relationship and child with Gabi Hernandez. When the initial storyline was leaked, some fans went online with the phrase “No gays on Days” in protest. The soap persisted with the romance, and Wilson has become one of the show’s most popular couples.
Young and the Restless was one of the last soaps to dip its feet into a gay storyline, though years earlier had teased one involving Katherine Chancellor and her friend Joann. When Mariah Copeland began having feelings for Tessa Porter, and they began a full-fledged relationship, some fans wouldn’t stand for it. Mariah and Tessa had shown no signs of being lesbians, both involved with only men, and some felt the story was being done for political correctness and keeping up with the times.
Passions First Faux-Pas
Right from the start, Passions stirred the pot when they introduced wealthy heiress Sheridan Crane, who was visiting Paris and reflecting on the death of her good friend Princess Diana. Sheridan found herself involved in an eerily similar crash, and her life was spared because she was wearing her seatbelt. As she fought for her life she was visited by the ghost of Diana. Many viewers found the story distasteful and exploitative.
Whiteface on Young & Restless
Young & Restless introduced Tyrone Jackson in 1984 as the younger brother of Jazz Jackson. The brothers got involved with investigating and trying to bring down mob boss Joseph Anthony, and as the story evolved, Tyrone used theatrical make-up to take on the caucasian identity of Robert Tyrone. For many, the storyline was racially insensitive at a time when there were already few minorities on soap operas.
A Gruesome Suicide
Matt Clark was Nick Newman’s high school rival, and the two fought over Sharon Collins. However, Matt took their high-school rivalry to new heights as an adult. He returned to town after years away with plastic surgery and a new identity as Carter Mills. He set out to torment Nick and Sharon, framing Nick for selling drugs and almost raping Sharon. Even on his deathbed, suffering fatal injuries from a car crash, he pulled out his breathing tube to try and frame Nick for his murder. The scene was incredibly disturbing for many.
When Stefano’s machinations left Marlena’s soul open and up for grabs, the devil himself decided to take it, possessing Marlena and forcing her to do terrible things. John Black, then a priest, sought the aid of other men of the cloth to exorcise the demon out of Marlena. For some viewers the storyline was absurd and over the top, while other conservative viewers felt it was mocking the Christian religion.