Updated: Wednesday, September 28, 2016, 10:33 PM
Agnes Nixon, 93, of Rosemont, writer, producer, and creator of soap operas such as ABC's One Life to Live and All My Children, died Wednesday morning.
Ms. Nixon was a dominant force in daytime TV. The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences called her "the grand dame of daytime serial drama" when she won a Daytime Emmy Award for lifetime achievement in 2010.
"There would be no ABC daytime without Agnes Nixon," said Frank Valentini, former executive producer of One Life to Live and current executive producer of General Hospital.
Valentini directed Ms. Nixon once in an episode of One Life to Live. She played God.
Ms. Nixon's shows were set in fictional stand-ins for the Main Line. All My Children was set in Pine Valley, based on Bryn Mawr, while One Life to Live's Llanview was based on Ardmore. All My Children ran from 1970 to 2011 on ABC (it aired until 2013 on the Online Network), while One Life to Live began in 1968 and was canceled in 2013.
"It is with a heavy heart I mourn the passing of television pioneer Agnes Nixon, someone I was proud to call a friend. Agnes’ impact on daytime television and pop culture is undeniable," said Robert A. Iger, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Co. "She was the first to champion socially relevant topics, and the towns and characters Agnes brought to life leave an indelible imprint on television that will be remembered forever. On behalf of Walt Disney and ABC, I want to extend our deepest condolences to her family.”
Ms. Nixon's work broke barriers by addressing topics such as abortion, AIDS, and same-sex marriage before prime-time outlets touched on those controversies. "Agnes was responsible for so many bold stories. They were social motivators and Agnes was at the forefront of that," said Jessica Klein, the head writer of the revived online version of One Life to Live and former Drexel University adjunct professor. "She was a champion of women. She never talked down to her audience. She believed in character drama, which is really what soap operas are. ... There's no harder job than writing for soap operas. It's 52 weeks a year, and there are no repeats. Agnes never stopped."
One Life to Live centered on the Lord family, specifically Viki Lord, played by Erika Slezak from 1971 to 2013. All My Children took a wider view of the denizens of Pine Valley, with Erica Kane as its central character throughout the show's run.
“I am devastated to hear about the passing of the beloved Agnes Nixon. I am forever grateful to her,” Susan Lucci, who played Erica Kane on All My Children, said.
She later posted on Instagram:
A photo posted by Susan Lucci (official) (@therealsusanlucci) on Sep 28, 2016 at 1:11pm PDT
In 2010, Ms. Nixon named Erica Kane as one of her favorites of more than 150 major characters she created. "She does outrageous things, but the audience knows that as much havoc as she causes in the lives of others, she torments herself even more," Ms. Nixon said of Lucci’s character.
Ms. Nixon was born in Chicago and began writing for soaps under her mentor, Irna Phillips, creator of soap operas such as Guiding Light and its sister show, As the World Turns. As the head writer for Guiding Light, she started tackling difficult topics. In 1962, after losing a friend to cervical cancer, she wrote a storyline about uterine cancer without using the words uterus, cancer, or hysterectomy.
In 1951, she married Robert H.A. Nixon. He died in 1996.
Mary Nixon, Ms. Nixon’s daughter, said her mother was a “pioneer” as a “working woman,” but it wasn’t until All My Children started when she was 15 that she realized what that meant. Until the show started in 1970, Mary said, Ms. Nixon mostly worked from home.
“She would go to New York every other weekend for meetings and she’d bring me Jordan almonds, candy from the train,” she said.
“The thing as an adult that I look back on is, she really made people look at stigma and people’s own feelings about a lot of important issues in her time and in our time,” Mary said. “She really wanted to help people learn and grow. It was more than just about how many marriages. … [It was to help viewers] have a better understanding of life.”
In addition to her daughter, she is survived by children Catherine Chicos, Robert, and Emily; 10 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
A visitation will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30, at McConaghy Funeral Home, 328 Lancaster Ave., Ardmore. A Funeral Mass will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, at St. Thomas of Villanova Rosemont Chapel, 1229 E. Lancaster Ave., Rosemont.
*An earlier version of this story incorrectly put Ms. Nixon's age at 88. She was 93.