Longtime viewers of "General Hospital" have watched Kimberly McCullough grow up. She originated the role of Robin Scorpio as a child in 1985 and will leave the show this month.
The actress first appeared in the ABC soap opera at 7 years old as the precocious Robin. In the soap genre, child characters tend to inexplicably age rapidly (referred to by fans as soap opera rapid aging syndrome, or SORAS) and get recast by older actors to give them juicer story lines. The "General Hospital" producers, though, not only let McCullough age on camera but gave her wiggle room to come and go, like to attend New York University.
The portrayal earned McCullough two Daytime Emmy awards and critical acclaim for a plot line in which her character's boyfriend Stone died of AIDS. Around that time, Robin also discovered she was HIV-positive.
While recently attending a women's directing program at the American Film Institute, McCullough, now 33, said in an interview that she realized it was time to pursue a dream to direct full time.
"The first thing they said to us was, 'OK, now you're a director,'" she said. "It felt terrifying, relieving and validating. It was a wakeup call, like, 'OK, don't just say you want to do this. Do this.' So after that it kind of became clear that I needed to figure out a way to exit the story."
Juggling acting with directing wasn't an option. McCullough says she's not a multitasker and likes to fully commit to whatever she's doing.
"I can't help myself. When I'm at work I have to give my all," she said. "It's just how I am."
"General Hospital" is pulling out all the stops for the character's goodbye. It's bringing back veteran actors Finola Hughes and Tristan Rogers, who play her parents, Anna and Robert. Rick Springfield also will return as the father of Robin's husband.
"It makes sense that both Anna and Robert are there," said McCullough, who can't reveal exactly how she leaves.
While it's uncertain whether Robin will return to "General Hospital," Hughes is not concerned about the fate of McCullough.
"I have to say I'm incredibly proud of her," Hughes said. "I've watched her grow up and keep a cool head. It's not easy being in this business as a child, and she's always managed to keep a level head. She has a great future."
"General Hospital" airs weekdays at 3 p.m. EST.
Alicia Rancilio covers entertainment for The Associated Press. Follow her at http://www.twitter.com/aliciar