Jacklyn Zeman, the veteran soap actress best known for playing Barbara “Bobbie” Spencer on ABC’s General Hospital, has died. She was 70.
General Hospital executive producer Frank Valentini confirmed Zeman’s death on social media on Wednesday evening. “On behalf of our General Hospital family, I am heartbroken to announce the passing of our beloved Jackie Zeman. Just like her character, the legendary Bobbie Spencer, she was a bright light and true professional that brought so much positive energy with her to work,” Valentini tweeted.
No cause of death or further details were provided.
A statement posted to the official General Hospital Twitter account said, “Jacklyn Zeman has been a beloved member of the General Hospital and ABC family since she originated the iconic role of Bobbie Spencer over 45 years ago. She leaves behind a lasting legacy for her Emmy-nominated portrayal of the bad girl turned heroine and will always be remembered for her kind heart and radiant spirit.”
The statement continued, “We are devastated by the news of her passing, and send our deepest condolences to Jackie’s family, friends and loved ones.”
Born in Englewood, New Jersey in 1953, Zeman began dancing at the age of 5, training in classic ballet. She attended Bergenfield High School and at 15, she was accepted into the New Jersey Dance Company. At the same age, she was accepted into New York University on a scholarship to study dance.
Still in her teens, Zeman moved to Caracas, Venezuela for a short period to work as a dancer, before returning to New York to continue her studies. While pre-med at NYU, Zeman did sporadic jobs including modeling and shooting covers for romance novels. She also worked for a time as a Playboy Bunny at the New York Playboy Club. In later interviews, she said gained a lot of experience working in the entertainment industry working for Hugh Hefner.
After appearing in one episode of the soap The Edge of Night in 1976, Zeman decided to focus on acting. Her first significant role came in 1977, as a series regular on the ABC soap One Life to Live. She then moved to Los Angeles, winning a part on ABC’s General Hospital and giving birth to the character of Bobbie Spencer in December 1977.
With a varied background as a nurse and a teenage prostitute, Bobbie was initially a scheming character on General Hospital and Zeman often talked about how soap fans had trouble separating her from the character, particularly during the zenith of the genre’s popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. “Bobbie was an opportunist. She had a major agenda,” Zeman told We Love Soaps about playing Bobbie in 2009. “I love the fact that she’s always been very intelligent. That was a part of the character that I really loved.”
A General Hospital mainstay, Zeman would play Bobbie in over 800 episodes of the soap, over a mammoth span of almost 50 years. Her first stint playing Bobbie lasted from 1977 to 2010, at which point Zeman took a three-year break before reprising the role in 2013 to the present.
In 2001, Jill Farren Phelps came on as a producer at General Hospital, and Zeman’s screen time declined as the show shifted away from Bobbie storylines. “[Phelps] wasn’t interested in the character,” Zeman told We Love Soaps. “She wanted to have other characters come on and fill that place and as a producer that is her prerogative. I certainly had a good run as Bobbie. I have nothing to feel bad about or complain about. It was a long, fabulous time.”
Outside of General Hospital, Zeman starred in the streaming soap The Bay from 2010-2023 as well as featured in episodes of Chicago Hope, Mike Hammer, Love American Style, Fantasy and Sledge Hammer. She also starred in several feature films, including Gary Marshall’s Young Doctors in Love and John Hughes’ National Lampoon’s Class Reunion.
In total, Zeman earned five Daytime Emmy Award nominations, four of which were for playing Bobbie Spencer, including one for Outstanding Lead Actress in 1998.