atwt helen wagner nancy cbs everett

Image: CBS/Courtesy of the Everett Collection

Sadly, they don’t make ’em like Helen Wagner anymore.

It was 10 years ago this August 31st that As the World Turns had the Hughes family do what viewers couldn’t bear to do: say goodbye to their matriarch, Nancy. Helen Wagner, who’d not only played the character since the CBS soap’s 1956 debut but also spoke its very first line, had passed away on June 10. More than two months later, the 91-year-old’s demise was written into the show, with Nancy’s son, Bob, discovering that she’d died in her sleep. Today’s episode all those years back served as a kind of memorial for her as well as the soap legend who’d brought her to life.

Wagner “was a pistol,” Kathryn Hays (Kim) told WeLoveSoaps.net in October of 2010, “and remained that to the end. I saw her a couple days before she passed on, and she was still herself…

“Even at the end, when she was in the hospital [before succumbing to cancer], she knew she had a call to appear on the show the following week,” she continued. “She asked the doctor if they could get her well enough to be there for her call.”

Nancy was rarely the character who made things happen on As the World Turns but always the character to whom everyone wanted to talk about what was happening — and with good reason: Her head was level, her advice sound. She didn’t suffer fools and had no patience whatsoever for schemers. Just ask her onetime daughter-in-law, Lisa!

Though in the 1980s, As the World Turns shrunk Wagner’s role — once again, the boneheaded thinking that only young characters can possibly attract a young audience — she remained dedicated to it — and outspoken about being sidelined. “I had nothing whatsoever to do anymore,” she told the Associated Press. “I haven’t been in the kitchen for a year and a half.”

In 2006, Wagner sniffed to the New York Times that “the show today may be very au courant, but Nancy isn’t, which is a good thing. Her values are still about honesty, integrity and courtesy.”

Remember a little bit about why we so loved her and the meddling but moral matriarch she played by rewatching the above, Wagner’s final scene on As the World Turns. Then, if you’re so inclined, peruse the below photo gallery of soap greats that we’ve lost this year.