Miss April 1997 Kelly Monaco has been a fixture of popular culture and television for decades, but her first appearance in the national spotlight was actually away from the small screen. After submitting her pictures to Playboy at the age of 20, the Philadelphia native was named Playmate of the Month in April 1997. At the time, Monaco told Playboy, “I’ve always wanted to be a star. Growing up, I wanted to be an actress.” The model and former lifeguard soon made good on her dream by appearing on the hit TV show Baywatch from 1997 to 1998 as an extra and body double to fellow Playmate Carmen Electra (who reportedly could not swim).
Kelly quickly proved that she had the acting chops to match the beach body, landing a recurring role on the soap opera Port Charles, which garnered her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 2003. For her work on General Hospital—one of the longest-running soap operas in history—she was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
Just as the popularity of soap operas was starting to wane in popular culture, Kelly made a career move that put her on the cusp of another TV wave. She moved onto reality and talent competition. Monaco starred in and won the first season of talent juggernaut Dancing With the Stars despite being ranked as the lowest-scoring contestant after the first episode. She also starred in the reality series Dirty Soap for E! in 2011, which was produced by fellow soap vet Kelly Ripa. Monaco returned as a contestant to Dancing with the Stars in 2012 as part of the series’ All Stars competition.
Monaco took her dancing talents to Las Vegas, performing in the burlesque production of Peepshow at Planet Hollywood in 2009 (a role that was later filled by Holly Madison) while continuing her role as detective Sam McCall (née Sam Morgan) on General Hospital—a show in which she has starred in more than 1,200 episodes.
Monaco has shined as a television favorite for decades and has long reigned as a captivating cover girl. In addition to appearing in several Playboy special editions in the 1990s, Kelly’s December 2009 Maxim cover was named sexiest of the decade by the magazine.
When it comes to off-camera endeavors, Monaco has taken a meaningful path. She has worked as a children’s activist, traveling to Nairobi, Kenya to help local children and raise awareness about starvation and global poverty with Feed The Children.