As 'General Hospital' Turns 60, Look Back on Luke and Laura's Epic Romance

Loving Luke and Laura

(The following is excerpted from PEOPLE's collector's edition General Hospital: Celebrating 60 Years of Love & Drama available now on Amazon or wherever magazines are sold.)

In 1981 a once-in-the-history-of-soaps convergence of story, character, a wild cameo from Elizabeth Taylor and national appetite turned the wedding of two General Hospital characters, Lucas Lorenzo Spencer (Anthony Geary) and Laura Webber (Genie Francis), into a cultural milestone — and the highest-rated moment in daytime history, with 30 million tuning in.

Taylor, a rabid fan, had volunteered to crash the wedding as Helena Cassadine and put a curse on the couple. "I'm wild about that show," the Hollywood icon said. "I had a ball!"

Magazines, including PEOPLE, put Luke and Laura on the covers. Bars and college dorms threw viewing parties. A song called "General Hospi-Tale" became a Top 40 hit. The episode also minted new fans, including the Kansas City Royals baseball team, which came by the Los Angeles set for a tour.

As General Hospital turns 60, take a look back at the pair's storied — and somewhat controversial — romance.

Where It All Started

Mob hitman Luke and young Laura met as employees at the Campus Disco, developing a flirty friendship in 1979. One night, thinking his latest assignment from the Mob was about to get him killed, Luke drank heavily and confessed his love to Laura.

"I'm not going to die without holding you in my arms just one time. Dance with me," he said. As they swayed to Herb Alpert's "Rise," Laura grew fearful and tried to leave. The camera panned away as Luke forced himself on her and Laura screamed, "No!" After it was over, Laura ran sobbing out of the disco, and Luke cried, "What have I done?"

The producers, who were planning to kill Luke, noted the piles of fan mail coming into the studio for the couple and began referring to the act as a "seduction." Laura refused to name her attacker and gradually admitted she had feelings for Luke — and that maybe, perhaps it wasn't exactly rape.

On the Run

Interest exploded in 1980 when Luke and Laura went on the run, providing a daily dose of high adventure. The couple spent the summer and fall of 1981 on a quest to save the world.

Teens and college students tuned in by the millions — a new audience that thrilled advertisers.

Fountain of Truth

The Left-Handed Boy they were in pursuit of turned out to be a statue that held the key to decoding an incriminating black book.

Event of the Century

On Nov. 17, 1981, Luke and Laura said "I do."

"I never realized how big it was when it was happening, and I'm constantly amazed, as the years go by ... that people still care," Francis (with Geary) said in 2006.

Wedding Crasher

When Laura tossed her bouquet, it was caught by her long-lost husband Scotty Baldwin (Kin Shriner, center), the only one who could contest her quickie Mexican divorce. Luke leaped over the balcony, punched Scotty, and the wedding stood.

A Day of Drama

Luke comforted Laura after his over-the-top wedding-day brawl with Scotty.

Family Portrait

Ultimately their marriage didn't last — in part because Francis left the show for a bit — but Luke and Laura's legacy includes son Lucky (Jonathan Jackson) and daughter Lulu, here in the 1990s.

Back to the Chapel

The pair reunited — and were remarried — in 2006, a quarter century after their first wedding, though it was invalid because of Luke's marriage to to Tracy Quartermaine (Jane Elliot).

Luke was presumed dead in a 2022 cable-car crash (possibly orchestrated by his old nemesis Victor Cassadine). Laura tied the knot with Dr. Kevin Collins (Jon Lindstrom) in 2017 and remains the heart of the show as mayor of Port Charles.

General Hospital at 60

For more on all things General Hospital, pick up PEOPLE's special collector's edition General Hospital: Celebrating 60 Years of Love & Drama available now on Amazon or wherever magazines are sold.

The pair's wedding was the highest-rated moment in daytime history, with 30 million viewers tuning in