After refusing to comply with the vaccine mandate at “General Hospital,” Ingo Rademacher — who has played Jasper “Jax” Jacks on the long-running soap opera since 1996 — was ousted from the show, and Monday was his final episode. Jax left on a business trip to Australia, as he has several times in the past. On Nov. 8, ABC confirmed Rademacher’s departure.
But among “General Hospital” viewers, there’s currently a deeper mystery: Is Steve Burton, who has played the popular character Jason Morgan off and on since 1991, also defying the “General Hospital” vaccine requirement, and therefore leaving for the same reason? Burton’s departure has been rumored in the fandom for weeks, but an ABC spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment, and Burton’s publicist did not answer several inquiries from Variety about his status on the show.
At “General Hospital,” all cast and crew in Zone A — which comprises those present on set when the actors aren’t wearing masks, and the actors themselves — were required to be vaccinated as of Nov. 1. The show films weeks ahead, so Rademacher’s goodbye episode, and possibly Burton’s on Friday, were filmed before the rule went into effect. On Monday’s episode, after a tunnel collapse on Cassadine Island (fans will know what that means), an unseen Jason is likely under a pile of rubble.
Over the summer, the set of “General Hospital” became a contentious place to work. Burton tested positive for COVID in mid-August, saying he’d been “exposed at work.” And Rademacher, who frequently touts anti-vaccine propaganda on Instagram, clashed with his vaccinated castmates — and with fans, who caused #FireIngo to trend.
The news of Rademacher’s firing broke earlier this month after the actor shared a transphobic meme on his Instagram account. On Nov. 7, the day of that post, Rademacher’s “General Hospital” co-star Cassandra James, who is trans, tweeted: “I am aware of a transphobic post shared by a fellow General Hospital actor. Shame on you. You have some serious unlearning and education to do. I feel deeply disappointed that such a public display of ignorance could come from our GH family.”
That night, longtime “General Hospital” star and outspoken vaccine advocate Nancy Lee Grahn, whose character Alexis is best friends with Rademacher’s Jax, tweeted in support of James — and named Rademacher as the actor in James’ tweet.
“The fellow actor, #IngoRademacher, is mercifully no longer a part of the #gh cast,” Grahn tweeted. “Transphobia & misgendering are disgusting & should be unacceptable in any industry, including soaps/acting. I stand with my costar, @cassandrajames_, & the trans community.” “General Hospital” star Maurice Benard also tweeted in support of James.
Burton’s possible departure has been much quieter. Somehow, though, some fans deduced that he, too, wouldn’t want to comply with the vaccine mandate at “General Hospital.” Rumors that Burton is leaving have been rampant on Twitter, and the sites that cover soap operas have raised the question as well.
Recasting popular characters on soap operas and dead characters coming back to life are endemic to the genre. In the past, the Jason character has been played by other actors, as Burton has pursued other projects — and that is certainly possible again if Burton has in fact left. In the case of Rademacher, except for a few episodes in 2008, he has always played Jax. Which doesn’t mean that the character couldn’t be recast, should the “General Hospital” storyline have an urgent need for Jax, but for now, there are no plans to recast the character.
Of the four daytime dramas remaining on the networks, “General Hospital,” which is owned by ABC, is the only one that has instituted a vaccine mandate. NBC’s “Days of Our Lives,” and CBS’ “The Young and the Restless” and “The Bold and the Beautiful” continue to rely on testing, social distancing and other CDC-recommended guidelines for their on-set protocols.
Rademacher hadn’t appeared on “General Hospital” since Oct. 27. In his final scene in Monday’s episode, and possibly his last appearance as Jax ever, he said, “I’m kind of on the outs with everyone in Port Charles right now” — perhaps a wink at the audience.
As for Burton’s Jason, several of the show’s characters continue to look for him, vowing not to give up. The question for “General Hospital” fans is: Is he already gone?