Anthony Geary, who played Spencer until his retirement in 2015, originated the role in 1978.
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Luke and Laura will have to continue their epic romance in the afterlife.

In a shocking move, General Hospital has killed off Luke Spencer, the popular character who first came to Port Charles 44 years ago, portrayed by Anthony Geary.

Well, perhaps it's not super shocking seeing that Geary retired from the longest-running soap opera still in production back in 2015 and Luke has existed almost exclusively offscreen since then. But for fans of GH, Luke Spencer's death marks the end of an era.

Anthony Geary
Anthony Geary at the 42nd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards
| Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Luke died as he lived — offscreen. On Monday's episode of GH, Luke's widow Tracy Quartermaine (Jane Elliott) reveals to his former and eternal flame Laura (Genie Francis) that Luke's been killed in a cable car "accident" in Austria. This being a soap opera, it's later implied that Victor Cassadine (Charles Shaughnessy) was behind the said accident.

Geary joined General Hospital in 1978 for what was supposed to be a 13-week run, but audiences responded well to the character, who, like Francis' Laura Webber, brought in younger viewers. The writers scrapped plans to kill off Spencer and instead capitalized on the popularity of the Luke and Laura pairing.

The 1981 wedding of Luke and Laura drew 30 million viewers, making it the highest-rated episode in soap opera history and one of 20th century television's most memorable moments.

Anthony Geary
The wedding of Luke and Laura
| Credit: Everett

Their storybook romance, however, started off on a highly controversial note, with Luke's rape of Laura. For years afterward, Laura's rape was treated as a sort of seduction, that is, until 1998 when Luke and Laura's son Lucky (Jonathan Jackson) finds out about it. Lucky confronts his parents, which leads everyone, Luke and the audience included, to recognize what he did as sexual assault.

Geary had a love/hate relationship with the character, initially leaving the role in 1984 to pursue other opportunities. However, he found that the character's popularity was "such that it was difficult to do much else," as he told EW in 2008. He returned to the sudser in 1991 — but tired of playing Luke, he instead played Luke's look-alike cousin Bill Eckert.

While a classic soap move, the GH fanbase wasn't buying it. Geary resumed the role of Luke Spencer in 1993 and stayed on until 2015 — though he did take a few needed hiatuses from the show during that time.

"It was once very difficult for me to realize that more than likely my obituary in the paper will read, 'Luke of Luke and Laura fame died today.' It was very upsetting when I came to that realization," Geary told EW on the occasion of his final episode of General Hospital — though he would return for one final appearance in 2017.

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Luke and Laura in 2015
| Credit: Todd Wawrychuk/ABC

Despite his ambivalence over his Luke Spencer legacy, Geary won eight Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama, a record in that category.

"It's been a really exciting ride," Geary said at the time of his and Luke's final bow. "In the end, it's been well worth it."

Well, in soap opera land, no death is final. I guess there's always a chance Luke might come back as a ghost. Or that it was actually an evil twin who perished in the accident. After all, stranger things have definitely happened in Port Charles.

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