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Craig Sjodin/ABC/Courtesy of the Everett Collection, ABC/Courtesy of the Everett Collection, Jill Johnson/JPI, Bob D’Amico/ABC/Courtesy of the Everett Collection

When the actress took over the role in 1977, both the character and she herself hit the big time!

It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the part, but when Genies Francis debuted on General Hospital on February 8, 1977, Laura had already been around in Port Charles for a couple of years. Young Stacey Baldwin (no relation to Scotty!) had originated the role, though this early Laura mainly existed to provide drama for Lesley Williams as she discovered that the daughter that she’d thought had died… er, hadn’t.

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Francis’ Laura was an older teen who wasn’t just a plot device but a plot driver in her own right. What’s more, she didn’t just swim with the teen crowd — these were her Scotty days, after all — but jumped right into the deep end with the adults.

One of the future Emmy winner’s first storylines involved Laura being seduced by the creep David Hamilton. An old “friend” of Laura’s stepdad, Rick Webber, David had tried having his way with Lesley as part of some revenge scheme. When she turned him down cold, he moved on to her daughter — and succeeded! (In retrospect, poor, brokenhearted Scotty should have seen the writing on the wall at how easily his love was snatched away from him. Over and over again.)

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Things didn’t end well for that early fling of Laura’s. When David revealed that he’d just been using her, she was so furious, she pushed him down and, thanks to the soap laws of cause and effect, he hit his head on the fireplace and died! (Fireplaces are dangerous, yo!)

And that was Francis’ first year as Laura — a teenage affair with a grown man and a murder all wrapped into one delicious story. You can watch her heartbreaking murder confession to Luke Spencer a couple of years later below. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for us to realize that great things were ahead for Francis and her alter ego. And in the past four decades, she has not let us down!

Troubling relationships have been something of a hallmark for the character, from her rocky start with Luke and his rape of her, to her kidnapping and forced marriage of Stavros Cassadine. Also, we learned a few years back that Laura was a bit murder-happy in the late ’70s, as she also accidentally killed Rick’s mistress, Theresa Carver!

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Over the years, Laura’s gone from rebellious teenager and waitress at the Campus Disco to the freakin’ mayor of Port Charles. She’s battled supervillains and the Mafia, held her ground against mobster Frank Smith and momster Helena Cassadine. And she’s gone from angry adolescent to fiercely protective matriarch, raising three kids and being blessed with four grandkids.

Oh, and there was that whole “most-watched daytime event in history” thing with Luke and Laura’s 1981 nuptials. That’s a feat that hasn’t been beaten to this day, and, let’s be honest, likely never will. (RSVP yes — better late than never — by checking out our “wedding album” here.)

It’s impossible to imagine any of this without Francis. That might be why, even though she’s come and gone from General Hospital a number of times over the years, the character has never been recast. Francis always returns, each time with Laura a little wiser, a little more self-assured and ready to tackle whatever Port Charles throws at her.

While you’re here, don’t just raise a glass to Francis’ accomplishment, raise a glass and take a stroll down Memory Lane via the below photo gallery, which revisits her storied history as Laura.

Video: YouTube/General Hospital