Jacklyn Zeman, who became one of the most recognizable actors on daytime television during 45 years of playing nurse Bobbie Spencer on ABC’s “General Hospital,” has died. She was 70.
Zeman died of cancer, her family confirmed Wednesday. News of her death was first announced by the show’s executive producer, Frank Valentini.
“I am heartbroken to announce the passing of our beloved Jackie Zeman,” he wrote on Twitter. “Just like her character, the legendary Bobbie Spencer, she was a bright light and a true professional that brought so much positive energy with her work.”
ABC Entertainment and “General Hospital” also released a statement saying Zeman “leaves behind a lasting legacy for her Emmy-nominated portrayal of the bad girl turned heroine and will always be remembered for her kind heart and radiant spirit. We are devastated by the news of her passing, and send our deepest condolences to Jackie’s family, friends and loved ones.”
Zeman joined “General Hospital” in 1977 as Barbara Jean, who went by Bobbie, and was the feisty younger sister of Anthony Geary’s Luke Spencer. Zeman grew to regard Geary as family off camera. “I’m probably closer to him than I would be a real-life brother,” she told co-star Maurice Benard last year on his YouTube series “State of Mind.”
Bobbie had worked as a teen prostitute and given up a baby for adoption but had managed to turn her life around and become a nurse at General Hospital. Zeman’s portrayal of Spencer was a spirited, upbeat woman who was as sweet as pie but who also had a sense of self. She didn’t suffer fools and had no problem revoking the niceties if warranted.
“Bobbie has been a fascinating person for me to play,” she said in an interview in 1982. “I get to do … all the things that most women think about but wouldn’t dare.”
One of Zeman’s most memorable scenes was in 1994, when Bobbie’s daughter B.J. was in a school bus accident that left her brain dead. Bobbie and then-husband Tony (played by Brad Maule) made the decision to donate their daughter’s heart to her cousin, Maxie, who had Kawasaki disease.
Laura Wright, who plays Bobbie’s daughter Carly Spencer, posted to Instagram Thursday, “I’m so grateful to have shared so many years with this beautiful woman. Jackie told the best stories – she had an INCREDIBLE spirit and she lived such an amazing life… saying she will be missed is an understatement.”
Benard, who plays mobster Sonny Corinthos, posted, “This hit me really hard. A gut punch. I think because Jackie was such a sweet, delicate soul.” Jon Lindstrom, who plays Kevin Collins described Zeman as a “life force” in a tweet.
Zeman’s death is the third death to hit the “General Hospital” cast and crew in six months. Cast member Sonya Eddy died in December from complications of an emergency surgery and beloved producer Nneka Garland died suddenly in April.
Born March 6, 1953, in Englewood, New Jersey, Zeman discovered a love for dance as a child, and as a teen began acting in school productions. She worked in Venezuela as a dancer after high school and was pre-med at New York University but dropped out when she was offered a contract at the ABC soap “One Life to Live” after originally being hired for just three days of work.
On “One Life,” she played Lana McClain for a little more than one year and then left for “General Hospital.” “I didn’t even audition,” she told a blogger in 2010. Zeman was nominated for four Daytime Emmy Awards for her work on the show.
Outside soap operas, Zeman worked as a Playboy Bunny to help pay for college and also acted in commercials. She had a role in 1982’s “National Lampoon’s Class Reunion” and appeared in a string of TV movies, including the ABC Afterschool Special “Montana Crossroads” in 1993. She also had a series regular role as Sofia Madison in the crime drama series “The Bay,” earning her a fifth Emmy Award nomination.
Zeman last’s appearance on “General Hospital” was in April for the wedding of her character’s grandson. The same month, she also celebrated the show’s 60th anniversary by posting a video on Instagram to fans.
“A great, big heartfelt thank you to the very special people who have been watching us and supporting us and keeping us on the air all these years. We love you.”
She was married and divorced three times, first to disc jockey Murray “Murray the K” Kaufman, then to Steve Gribbin and Glenn Gordon. Zeman’s survivors include two daughters, Cassidy and Lacey, from her marriage to Gordon and two grandchildren.