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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Any woman of a certain age will remember this song.

(Soundbite of song Jessie's Girl)

Mr. RICK SPRINGFIELD (Singer and Actor): (Singing) Jessie is a friend.

BRAND: And who sang it.

Mr. SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) Always been a good friend of mine.

BRAND: For everyone else, that's Rick Springfield. Not only was he a pop star in the 1980s with songs like Jessie's Girl, he was a soap star on General Hospital at the same time. He played the sexy yet sensitive Dr. Noah Drake, but he spent only two years on the show before leaving to cash in on the success of Jessie's Girl.

Mr. SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) You know, I wish that I had Jessie's girl. I wish that I had Jessie's girl. Where can I find a woman like that?

BRAND: It didn't work out. His movie career fizzled, and Rick spent the next 20 years playing his handful of his hits to fans in places like Japan and Las Vegas. But soap opera plots never really end, and so Rick is back after 23 years, playing Dr. Noah Drake again on General Hospital.

Mr. SPRINGFIELD: For the longest time, it really hurt my career that I had been on the soap, it hurt my music career. It's been so bizarre that when they came to me, General Hospital, I thought, you know, that was a good part of my career, and I shouldn't deny that and it could be a very interesting, you know, awareness factor.

Unidentified Man #1: Five, four, three, two...

BRAND: We're on the set, the famous nursing station at General Hospital where all sorts of dramas unfold, and Rick, playing Dr. Drake, is rehearsing a scene with his estranged son, Patrick.

Mr. SPRINGFIELD: (As Dr. Drake) I wasted too many years in self-pity, and I was hoping to move in the other direction.

Unidentified Man #2: (As Patrick) By refusing to rest during the epidemic?

Mr. SPRINGFIELD: Was is it?

Unidentified Man #3: Not that long ago you wanted me...

Mr. SPRINGFIELD: (As Dr. Drake) Not that long ago you wanted me to drink myself to death. I could still do that.

Unidentified Man #2: (As Patrick) Hey, don't let me stand in your way.

BRAND: The years have not been kind to Dr. Noah Drake. A young doctor from General Hospital has brought him back to help her with a tough brain operation. She found him drunk in a bar. Dr. Drake threw away his career as a hotshot neurosurgeon for the bottle after operating on his wife, who then died.

Mr. SPRINGFIELD: (As Dr. Drake) I don't practice medicine anymore.

Unidentified Woman #1: (As Doctor) I think you worked with my patient's parents, Allen and Monica Quartermain. Their son Jason was in a car accident ten years ago. He's suffered frontal lobe damage.

Mr. SPRINGFIELD: (As Dr. Drake) Memory loss, no emotional context.

Unidentified Woman #1: (As Doctor) Exactly. Now he's suffering from transient cerebral-ectify(ph).

Mr. SPRINGFIELD: (As Dr. Drake) From a hypo profuse spinal cortex.

BRAND: A far cry from the young Dr. Drake, who practiced surgery by day and seduction by night, wooing comely nurse Bobbie Spencer over a, yes, candlelight dinner.

MS. JACQUELINE ZEMAN (Actress): (As Bobbie Spencer) Let's go dancing.

Mr. SPRINGFIELD: (As Dr. Drake) The disco's closed.

MS. ZEMAN: (As Bobbie Spencer) Oh, but there's a lot of places to dance, and besides, I've got all this energy.

Mr. SPRINGFIELD: (As Dr. Drake) Yes. Well, that's from the caffeine in the coffee. I know a wonderful way to burn off energy.

MS. ZEMAN: (As Bobbie Spencer) Noah.

Mr. SPRINGFIELD: (As Dr. Drake) C'mon, Bobbie.

MS. ZEMAN: (As Bobbie Spencer) What?

Mr. SPRINGFIELD: (As Dr. Drake) What is this game you're playing, this cat and mouse?

MS. ZEMAN: (As Bobbie Spencer) Who's the cat? And who's the mouse?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Since 1978, Jacqueline Zeman has played Bobbie Spencer.

Ms. ZEMAN: Bobbie Spencer Braughmeier(ph) Jones Cassadine almost Jack Spencer, and there are a few in there I didn't marry, of course.

BLOCK: Really? Rick.

Ms. ZEMAN: Rick. Dr. Noah Drake. Didn't marry him, but definitely an important affair, an affair to remember. Is that what they say? Memorable moments?

Ms. ZEMAN: Unlike Rick, Jackie has never left the show to pursue a career outside the soap. She has spent her entire adult life at General Hospital. In her dressing room, she has photos of herself with her real family and her soap family, and you can't tell who's who.

Ms. ZEMAN: My grandma, you know, who watched the show, of course, every day before she passed, we were at the dinner table one time, this is ten years ago, and she said, Bobbie, pass the rolls.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ZEMAN: I was like, Gram. She went, Oh, I'm sorry. Jackie, I know your name is Jackie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ZEMAN: I thought it was very cute. You know, I think of myself as like a sister to Bobbie.

BRAND: Longtime viewers feel like they know Bobbie like a sister too, along with other veteran characters. General Hospital is not just a TV show. It's an institution. One of the oldest soaps, it's been on the air for 43 years and has a unique history.

When Rick Springfield agreed to do the show back in 1981, he had no idea that he was about to become part of a zeitgeist moment.

Mr. SPRINGFIELD: You know, I thought it was like older ladies sitting in front of the ironing board watching soaps. I didn't realize what it was about to become.

BRAND: The Luke and Laura phenomenon. Their romance and adventures propelled General Hospital beyond the ironing board set. Suddenly, teenage girls were watching too. At its peak, some 14 million people tuned in every day.

Jill Farren Phelps is the show's executive producer.

Ms. JILL FARREN PHELPS (Executive Producer, General Hospital): Luke and Laura were very special, you know. Luke and Laura were representative of a time when soap operas were doing things differently than they'd ever done before.

BRAND: 25 years later, that audience has fallen to about three million a day. Jill Farren Phelps is trying to recreate the old magic by bringing back various alumni, including Dr. Noah Drake.

Ms. PHELPS: You can see how it reawakens in our viewers the excitement that they felt then. I mean it's real. It's not just nostalgic excitement. It's real excitement that they feel, and so that young people get on that bandwagon too. You don't have to have known how great they were. You just have to watch how great they are.

Ms. ZEMAN (as Bobbie Spencer): We all lose patience, Noah. That is the heartbreak of our job. We can't let that stop us cold.

Mr. SPRINGFIELD (As Dr. Noah Drake): Oh, spare me the arrogance of youth, will you? Always spouting advice on subjects you know nothing about. Have you lost a patient you're in love with?

Ms. ZEMAN: No, but I'm about to unless you help me.

BRAND: The fans are excited about Rick Springfield's return, says Stephanie Sloane. She's editor of Soap Opera Digest, and she's excited too. She watches General Hospital every day.

Ms. STEPHANIE SLOANE (Editor, Soap Opera Digest): I think he looks great. I mean he's not someone who when you walked on screen you're like, Who's that? I mean, he pretty much looks the same. He just looks older. But he's also playing someone who's a drunk, and so I don't know if that he was supposed to look amazing when he came back because he has liver complications because of his drinking.

BRAND: Rick Springfield is no longer fodder for Teen Beat magazine. He's 56 years old. He still has lots of hair, but now, it's cut in that aging rocker look, short on top, longer in the back. In his dressing room before he has to go on set, he's wearing a sleeveless T-shirt and drinking tea. He shows off a new electric guitar he recently bought in Japan; clearly, more comfortable jamming than talking.

(Soundbite of Rick Springfield playing guitar)

BRAND: Rock and roll. So between takes you come back here?

Mr. SPRINGFIELD: Yeah, I actually write back here, which is what I used to do originally; I mean I wrote quite a few songs in the dressing room of General Hospital in the '80s. I mean I remember writing Affair of the Heart here and parts of Don't Talk to Strangers. For me, because having kids now too, my house is always really noisy, and to get away here is kind of a blessing to write. I have so much time for just me, you know, to write.

BRAND: Do your kids know that you were such a huge pop sensation? Do they get that?

Mr. SPRINGFIELD: Yeah, they kind of have a great, healthy sense of humor about it; you know, and, certainly, you know, songs like Jessie's Girl that kept a kind of current thing about it, so I'm not just considered an oldie amongst their audience.

BRAND: I mean, do they think you're cool?

Mr. SPRINGFIELD: Yeah, I think, overall, they do. I mean like there are certain elements where I'm a dork, but they've always worn my clothes, and they'll raid my closet, but that's mainly because I try and dress like a teenager, which is pretty sick. I always said I wouldn't be the old lady with the mini-skirt and the go-go boots, but I am.

BRAND: Now that he's having his TV comeback, what about a musical comeback? Well, not so coincidentally, Rick Springfield has a new album out now. It's all covers of other peoples' songs that were hits in the '70s and '80s.

Mr. SPRINGFIELD: I wanted a kind of record you could put on late at night, the kind of music I listen to at night. I don't listen to loud rock stuff late at night. I put on something with mood and mystery and just let it play through, and I wanted something like that.

Mr. SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) I'm not in love, so don't forget it. It's just a silly phase I'm going through.

BRAND: Rick Springfield, his new album is called The Day After Yesterday. He's playing Dr. Noah Drake on General Hospital indefinitely.

Mr. SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) Don't get me wrong, don't think you've got it made.

BRAND: To see pictures, then and now, go to our web site, NPR.org.

Mr. SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) No, no.

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