Susan Lucci is undoubtedly a legend. She is someone that millions of us have loved and grown up with primarily due to her iconic role as Erica Kane on ABC’s All My Children.
She made television history in May of 1999 when she won her first Daytime Emmy award after eighteen losses. Her performance as Erica scored her the nod for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series that many times, but she was unable to take it over the finish line up until then.
Susan winning that evening is still etched in many of our minds all this time later. Its arguably been called the greatest live television moment of all time… and rightfully so as it’s something this writer can look back on and still be profoundly moved by.
What’s even more incredible to believe is that it took place 20 years ago this year. My how time flies. So what does Susan remember from the night that she triumphantly won?
I was incredibly lucky to sit down with Susan last month for an intimate lunch in New York City, where she revealed everything that happened that evening and more. Turns out she had no idea she won initially… even with the entire audience screaming for her.
Take a look at part one of my interview with the legendary Susan Lucci.
Can you believe its been 20 years since your iconic Daytime Emmy win?
No, I cannot. The last time I looked it was twelve years. I guess I’m somebody who looks forward more than back, although this is a lovely, wonderful thing to look back on.
Do you recall everything that happened that night?
I think I do, yeah. The Emmys were held in Madison Square Garden that year. That was unusual as it was usually held at Radio City Music Hall. I remember walking into that kind of corner entrance and the fans were jumping up and down with enthusiasm and telling me it was my year, which I so appreciated. I was so excited, and yet, you know, there had been eighteen other times that I hadn’t won but it was nice to hear them.
When I went in and sat down, Rosie O’Donnell was sitting to my left, my husband to my right in the front row. Rosie at one point said to me, “Susan, when you go up on stage tonight, why don’t you give me your handbag? Because otherwise you’ll hear your name, you’ll stand up right away, you’ll step all over your bag and that will not look pretty on TV.”
I said “Rosie, thank you, that is so nice of you, but history has taught me I am not going up there. I’m a hopeful person… but probably not.” Then, when Shemar Moore announced, “The streak is over!”, I thought that he was announcing some playoff scores and keeping everybody up to date.
Also, I started to go numb after the 9th time when they would announce the name. Self-protective? I don’t know. I would look to see where the eye contact was gonna be… nobody was ever making eye contact with me! It was not my time to win. So, the only way I knew I won was when Rosie reached over and took my handbag from me.
For anybody who did see that broadcast, I whispered in my husband’s ear “Are you sure?" Because I was afraid that someday I would go up. Of course, I heard the theme song too, but at one point I thought… I will not be able to speak. I will not be able to stand. And I’m not like this. My legs felt like they were going to turn to Jell-O.
Just the night before in bed, because a lot of people had been saying to me “this is your year”, because the storyline had universal importance (daughter who battled anorexia) and all the components were there. The storytelling, the direction, the acting… every single person. You can’t help but get your hopes up, but I would let myself go there just the night before when I was lying in bed.
I thought, “Wow. If I were to win, there is so many people I really don’t want to forget that I want to thank.” So, I didn’t know if I could even stand let alone speak. Then I turned around and I saw everybody, including Oprah Winfrey in the wings jumping up and down. So yeah, I guess I remember a lot of detail.
Looking back on it now, do you take all the nominations and subsequent losses and talk about this as a compliment?
Oh yes. I always did. I knew that my friends and family wanted me to win, but when the press started being so positive in their wishes that I would win… that was amazing to me. And that I would be nominated all those times because those nominations come from your peers. That was incredible.
Was there anyone that you locked eyes with while you were on stage accepting your Emmy besides your husband?
Well I remember very vividly seeing Kelly Ripa standing. Also, some members from our cast like David Canary as well as Peter Bergman.
I don’t think there has ever been that loud and lengthy of a response from an audience at an awards show.
I know Dick Clark told me afterwards that there has never been that length of a standing ovation and all of that. It’s nice to think that!
I gotta ask. Were you annoyed that they asked you to wrap up before you were even finished with your legendary speech?
I just knew I had more people to thank. I just knew at that point I had not even thanked my children, and they were so major to me to thank. And my husband, I had to… I wanted to. So, I was so grateful that the audience was like “Let her speak!” and came to my defense.
I would’ve found that cameraman for you that night and taken care of it. The news aired directly after the show, right? The news can wait.
I thought it was the perfect acceptance speech. You thanked every type of person, and there was no level of importance to each. I just think it all blended well together And I think Shemar really hit it out of the park, because they needed someone of his magnitude and oomph. I don’t think somebody meek or quieter could’ve done the same thing.
Yes, he was perfect. His charming and big voice helped with the moment.
Well I will tell you that I was home that night with my mother and we both cried when it happened.
Aww, that’s lovely to hear.
Part two will discuss Susan’s love and devotion of the LGBTQ community, if she’ll ever appear on RuPaul’s Drag Race and so much more.
You can follow Susan on Instagram here.