December 20, 1999 12:00 PM

Robin Strasser opens the door of her New York City apartment barefoot, wearing an apron, a smile and no makeup. “I’ve cooked you a chicken!” she tells her visitor. “And I didn’t know if you liked chicken soup, so I made some of that too.” Strasser is definitely not playing Dorian Lord, her glamorous, conniving character on One Life to Live.

The homebody role is one that Strasser’s friends will be seeing more often. In November she stunned the soap world by announcing she will leave the ABC series by the end of January. “It’s not easy to walk away from something as potent as this,” says Strasser, 54. “But I’m building a bridge, not burning one.”

During her two long runs on the show (1979-87 and 1993 to the present), Strasser became one of the most recognizable faces in daytime. “You think of OLTL, and you think of Dorian and Robin Strasser as being a forever thing,” says executive producer Jill Farren Phelps. “It’s a real loss.” Adds Soap Opera Weekly editor-in-chief Mimi Torchin: “No one can play Dorian but Robin.”

Strasser’s castmates, who affectionately call her “Bird,” are despondent. “It takes the wind out of my sails. It really depresses me,” says Robert S. Woods—Bo Buchanan on the show—who joined the cast with Strasser 20 years ago. “I think it is remarkably brave of her to go off,” says Erika Slezak, who plays Dorian’s archnemesis Viki Lord Carpenter. “If I had the guts, I don’t think I’d follow her today, but eventually I probably will.”

Why the exit? Realizing she had but one life to live, that she still felt young and restless, and that these were, after all, the days of our lives, Strasser decided to launch a bold and beautiful search for tomorrow. More specifically, Strasser says she is determined to lend her strength to a higher calling: promoting women’s health issues, particularly menopause awareness. She has already spent five years and nearly $500,000 of her own money producing a three-part video, Menopause S.O.S.: Sharing Options & Support. “I want to empower women with knowledge,” says Strasser. “It’s a terrific tape,” says Marie Lugano, president of the American Menopause Foundation, adding that Strasser “is one of the few celebrities who is not afraid to talk about menopause.”

Strasser’s own change rocked her foundations in 1993. Depressed, she found herself sobbing on the set, unable at times to remember her lines. “My adrenals would kick in, and in the midst of this hot flash, my memory circuits would burn out,” she recalls. When Strasser sought help, she says, “My doctor joked that I had the same estrogen level as a man.” She now takes natural, plant-based estrogen and progesterone to control her symptoms. “She definitely grabbed it by the throat as soon as she recognized it for what it was,” says her son Ben Luckinbill, 24, a composer and record producer in Manhattan.

Strasser developed that spunk as a teen. The daughter of Anne, now 73, and Martin, a radio engineer, who divorced when she was an infant (Martin died in 1964), Strasser first hit the stage at the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan and furthered her professional training at the Yale School of Drama. A 1965 marriage to actor Laurence Luckinbill lasted 11 years (he’s now married to Lucie Arnaz) and produced sons Nicholas, 28, an L.A. party producer, and Ben. Strasser appeared on Broadway (in Neil Simon’s Chapter Two) and was a founding member of the American Conservatory Theatre before joining daytime TV in 1967.

Though proud of her career, Strasser—divorced since 1985, after a two-year union with TV executive Richard Hogan—is curious to see what lies next. “I look around at the women I most admire, like Georgia O’Keefe and Eleanor Roosevelt,” says Strasser, “and they were well over 50 and stayed productive. That’s my dream.”

She believes the decision to leave OLTL is the right one, but that doesn’t make it easy. For years fans “have watched and hung in there,” she says, growing a little teary. Will they ever see her again? Strasser, open to the possibilities, adds, “I am not personally slamming the door in any way to anything.” As they say in daytime: Stay tuned.

Sophfronia Scott Gregory

Diane Clehane in New York City

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