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Suddenly Susan

After almost three decades portraying Erica Kane, Susan Lucci has—finally—won that elusive Emmy. But the actress still has other roles to conquer.
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
Susan Lucci, Sep/Oct 99

Susan Lucci looks into the gilded mirror and fluffs her chestnut hair. The soap-opera icon repositions the spaghetti straps atop her low-cut, form-fitting, soft-pink dress and adjusts the curves of her petite figure to make the dress fit sinuously. She suddenly hears a sound behind her, and turns her large dark-brown eyes toward the door across the room. Beyond the door, an eager visitor awaits.

The still-sexy, 5-foot 3-inch Lucci glides through the bright yellow living room of her palatial home in Pine Valley, Pennsylvania, a luxurious, yet fictitious suburb of Philadelphia. On the wall, in a golden frame above her fireplace, is a full-length self-portrait, the mistress of the mansion in a shining white gown. Around her is a symphony of crystal--chandeliers and candelabras--amid an effusion of yellow and green flora. Lucci opens the door. There, facing her, is the new man in her television life, actor Vincent Irizarry.

"You look sensational," he says.

"Thank you," she responds, smiling seductively. "And you know something? I was just thinking that myself."

Susan Lucci always looks sensational. Whether she's portraying vixen Erica Kane on ABC's "All My Children," or making a series of popular television commercials for Sweet One, Wendy's or Ford, or marketing her signature collection of hair products, or having a healthy breakfast of yogurt and fresh fruit at 5 a.m., the 29-year daytime-drama veteran exudes glamour and the rarefied aura of celebrity.

Soap Opera Digest has frequently selected her as "the most beautiful woman on television," and her millions of diehard fans have long concurred. Lucci has portrayed Erica Kane since 1970, bringing to vivid life the many facets of the femme fatale audiences love to hate--the always manipulative, sometimes coquettish, often bitchy, frequently voracious, occasionally vicious yet forever fabulous soap-opera heroine. Throughout her tenure on the award-winning soap, Lucci has portrayed, among other manifestations of her character, a troubled teenager, a high-fashion model, a cosmetics tycoon and a magazine publisher. Each is a complex aspect of that magnificently tortured television creation, a character who has been married nine times to six men and is more formally known as Erica Kane Martin Brent Cudahy Chandler Montgomery Montgomery Chandler Marick Marick.

TV Guide has called Erica "unequivocally the most famous soap opera character in the history of daytime TV." She has been kidnapped, survived a plane crash, stared down a grizzly bear, become addicted to painkillers, posed as a nun, hunted down Nazis in Bolivia, been tried for murder, fought valiantly--and successfully--to keep her daughter from starving herself to death, has driven a race car and tried to rescue one of her lovers from prison, via helicopter. Recently, Erica suffered serious heart and facial injuries in a car crash. On the day that Irizarry, who portrays Dr. David Hayward, arrived on Kane's doorstep, they had recently returned from Brazil, where Erica had undergone facial reconstruction, and wound up, again, looking just like Erica Kane--or is it Susan Lucci?

"I love Erica Kane," Lucci says, relaxing after a long day's shoot. "I love playing her. I enjoyed playing her when she was a 15-year-old high school girl, the naughty girl in town, and I enjoy playing her now, when she's still the naughty girl, but she's broadened her area of operation to include the entire world. It's just one of those amazing parts that come along once in a lifetime."

For portraying the often challenging role, Lucci has won the People magazine poll as best soap actress (1985), People's Choice Award (1992), and the Soap Opera Digest Award (1993). In each of the last 19 years, she was nominated for an Emmy as best actress in a daytime drama. And, as much of the world knows, for the first 18 of those years she lost, and not always gracefully, if the tabloids are to be believed.

Once, she reportedly stormed out of the awards show in tears, another time, she was said to have pounded on a table in fury. After one painful loss, the actress Shelley Winters sent a note to Lucci saying the soap star deserved to win.

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