Happy 60th Anniversary, 'General Hospital' ! PEOPLE Is Celebrating with a New Special Edition

In an exclusive interview, star Genie Francis tells PEOPLE about the wild days when Elizabeth Taylor crashed her TV wedding, Princess Diana sent champagne and everyone loved Luke & Laura

General Hospital People Cover

How to celebrate a beloved daytime drama turning 60? General Hospital star Genie Francis is stumped. "I just want it to be fabulous and wonderful and inclusive — get it the love it deserves," she tells PEOPLE. "How many shows make 60 years?" she adds. "It's so special."

General Hospital debuted in the spring of 1963 and Francis, who joined as a teen in 1977, is one of many reasons that millions of fans have tuned into the ABC soap opera for — we did the math — more than 15,000 episodes and counting.

Francis has another way to measure the show's longevity — the number of surnames her much-married character has taken. "You ready for this? Are you recording? Because you need to," she teases before taking a breath and reciting, "Laura Vining Faulkner Webber Baldwin Spencer Cassadine Spencer Collins Webber Collins!"

Luke (Anthony Geary) and Laura (Genie Francis) in an underground factory on ABC Daytime's "General Hospital"
Luke (Anthony Geary) and Laura (Genie Francis) on ABC's "General Hospital," 1981. ABC Photo Archives

Francis and several of her fellow castmates — among them Maurice Benard, Donnell Turner, Rebecca Herbst, Tabyana Ali, and Finola Hughes — spoke to PEOPLE for a new General Hospital: Celebrating 60 Years of Love & Drama special edition, out now in advance of that six-decade milestone.

Inside are exclusive interviews, the show's top memorable moments and behind-the-scenes secrets, including the story behind the bowl of moss in the the Corinthos kitchen that became an unlikely internet sensation.

The issue also revisits the series' greatest guest stars (superfan Chandra Wilson has had three different roles) and GH alumni including a pre-Star Wars Mark Hamill and pre-Suits Meghan Markle. The future Duchess of Sussex played a nurse named Jill in a 2002 episode when she was a Northwestern student and her father, Thomas, was a lighting director on the show.

Francis, 60, was one half of daytime's first break-out couple along with Anthony Geary (Luke). They became so popular that Elizabeth Taylor had her people call GH's people to request a invitation to their 1981 wedding. The Hollywood legend filmed five episodes in the role of Helena Cassadine, who puts a curse on the newlyweds. Francis recalled those heady days when even people who didn't watch soaps (or said they didn't) obsessed over Luke and Laura.

General Hospital People Cover

FROM THE PEOPLE ARCHIVES: TV's Luke and Laura, 20 Years After

"I didn't understand how big it all was. I was a kid! I had such a tiny little life, from my bedroom to the studio to school and back to my bedroom to learn my lines," she tells PEOPLE.

Not yet 21, she didn't get to keep the champagne sent to her by the only bride more famous than she in 1981. "Somebody said, 'This is from the Right Honorable Lady Diana Spencer, and we wanted you to know.' But they didn't give me the champagne because I was underage."

GENERAL HOSPITAL - ABC's "General Hospital" stars Genie Francis as Laura Spencer
ABC/Ricky Middlesworth

These days, says the actress, the fandom has calmed to where she feels that "everywhere I go I have friends."

And Laura has grown up along with her — the character was elected mayor of Port Charles, the fictional city she took by storm back in 1977. "Her motherly instincts are directed more toward the town now," says Francis. "Young Laura was desperately looking for love and to be loved. Older Laura is looking to give love — as it should be."

For more from the General Hospital cast and creators, pick up PEOPLE's new special edition General Hospital: Celebrating 60 Years of Love & Drama, available now wherever magazines are sold.

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