Soap operas saved my life this past winter. I lived and worked in a solitary tundra, often alone almost 24/7, as friends and co-workers fell prey to COVID and flu bugs or just kept their distance for safety’s sake. I was still in high school when the AIDS crisis began and was somewhat shielded from the devastating losses that era of gay men (and women) reeled from. Still, I felt a keening commonality with those spiritual brothers & sisters as I faced the disease devastated landscape of this past January & February. Thankfully, the people I knew were vaccinated and thus not lost to the world, but the impact felt somewhat similar.
Consistently facing the quiet at work, I would throw on YouTube to keep me company throughout the day. Gladly, I discovered numerous fans had downloaded months of episodes from various long cancelled daytime dramas to their channels. I soon got swept into the over-the-top circumstances their favored shows had presented and, as so often happens, the fictional people in those often-ridiculous circumstances soon became like old friends to me.
Ultimately, the plot line that I connected with the most was the more realistic late ‘80s saga of Another World’s Dawn Rollo (Barbara Tyson). Her plight rang in with a keening similarity as it seemed to have a significant parallel to the world I was then inhabiting. A quietly intense musical student, Rollo was the first long term soap character to be diagnosed with HIV and as her disease became full blown, the show dealt with her day-to-day struggles and sensitively chronicled her romance with Scott (Hank Cheyne), one of the show’s charming heroes. Most impact-fully, she also successfully sued her school for discrimination, an arc that tied in many of the shows heavy hitters, including (soap legend) Denise Alexander’s long suffering Mary, who was Scott’s mother.
A bit more fantastically, Dawn’s brother, played by future soap hopper Richard Burgi, also ultimately of Days of our Lives, General Hospital & The Young and the Restless, had to be one of the youngest, handsomest ex-pimps ever. His arrival on the scene was precipitated by his desire to reconnect with M.J. McKinnon (Sally Spencer), a respected police officer who had once been an important part of his stable of workers. With that kind of background, it was unsurprising when it was revealed that the duo’s mother was a prostitute who had infected Dawn through a blood transfusion. (As if only criminals, gays & their innocent bystanders got the disease back then!) Still, the writers got the heart of the story down correctly and I shed many a work shift tear as Dawn eventually lost her battle with the illness.
Months later, I still feel a heart filled connection with Tyson, who has gone onto appear as a guest on such horror themed shows as Poltergeist: The Legacy & Fear Itself, Cheyne, the macho gym-jack ass in Death Spa & Burgi, known as well for such projects as Hostel 2, Harper’s Island & Friday the 13th (2009). Of all our worldly cures, art is still the one, I find, that illuminates & heals the most.
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!