Why Maurice Benard Almost Quit General Hospital Just After Landing Sonny

Soap star Maurice Benard is an indisputable force on "General Hospital." His 29-year tenure on the longest running soap opera speaks for itself, per TheWrap. Benard has perfected mobster-turned-family-man Sonny Corinthos' distinct personality, and has effortlessly made him jump off the page no matter the storyline or acting partner. 

After playing Sonny for years, Benard has found many ways to reinvent himself while reaching fans. As a mental health advocate, the Emmy-award winning actor has steadily delivered an earnest and heartfelt portrayal of his character's mental health issues. During a March 30 appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America," he spoke candidly about his diagnosis with bipolar disorder and public perception and stigma surrounding mental health. He shared that he was institutionalized after having a breakdown shortly before landing his role as Sonny.

Benard told the news outlet that playing Sonny, a character who also had bipolar disorder, was an opportunity in disguise. "[After being cast as Sonny], I did a book about my mental health," Benard explained. "And now, I'm doing a show called 'State of Mind' about mental health and I know because when I was in that period, that mental institution. I knew there was a reason why I was doing this, why I was there." For Benard, the reason was to help others with mental illness.

Thanks to Benard, Sonny is one of the most beloved characters in soap opera history. But there was a time where he almost left the show.

Maurice Benard was close to quitting his award-winning role before it began

In an April 2021 Instagram post, Maurice Benard revealed the shocking news that he almost walked out on his fan-favorite role as Sonny Corinthos. As of April 2022, he's starred in over 2,886 episodes of the hit series, per Daily Mail. He shared a sweet tribute to former "General Hospital" producer Shelley Curtis and credited her as one of his reasons for staying on the show. "I remember when I started 'General Hospital' I quit three weeks into the gig," Benard revealed. "I said I didn't want to act again. I wanted to be a preacher, 'GH' and Paula [his wife] convinced me to go back."

In his Instagram post, Benard was vulnerable about wanting to throw in the towel after having a third breakdown. He recounted how everyone encouraged him to keep going, and the impact that this had on him. "I'll never forget I was in my dressing room with Shelley Curtis crying like a baby on her shoulder," he admitted. "I said '[T]here's no way I can say a line.' She looked at me and said, '[W]e will do it page by page line by line word by word if we have to."

Shelley Curtis knew Maurice would steal hearts everywhere with his honest portrayal

Almost 30 years later, Maurice Benard had the opportunity to reunite with Shelley Curtis on the December 5, 2021 episode of his mental health podcast, "State of Mind." Curtis shared her perspective on Benard's beginnings at "GH" and why he needed to give himself more credit. "We handed you this [character] and you put it all together," Curtis explained. "And I knew if we could get you up there and I could stand on the stage and be there for you, you knew it."

Benard once detailed his experience starting out on the soap opera in his 2020 memoir, "Nothing General About It: How Love (And Lithium) Saved Me On And Off General Hospital," per Soaps in Depth. In the book, he opened up about balancing his personal life with his professional one, and how his breakdown impacted his acting.

Throughout the podcast, Curtis was adamant about Benard's potential for greatness, and why his comfort on-set was a priority. The veteran soap producer added on that everyone believed in him, even when he didn't. "I had all of the faith in the world in you and I think you felt that, from me and from [producer] Wendy [Riche]," she added. "And your co-workers loved you. Once you got up there and did it, you couldn't believe you did it. And I said, 'See Maurice, you did it, and you'll come back and you will do it again.'"

Maurice Benard eventually plans to retire

In a live April 24 episode of "State of Mind," Maurice Benard revealed that he's considering retiring from acting so he can eventually shift his focus to mental health advocacy full-time. She Knows Soaps made the point that with the heavy storylines he's handled on a recurring basis, it makes sense that the legendary soap actor feels it's time to step back.

As of right now, Benard continues to nail his role as the mobster. His cast mates regularly share how great of an actor he is, and what makes him so pleasant to work with. But it's inevitable that fans will miss him when he's ready to say goodbye. In the meantime, we're so glad that Benard's support system has been going strong since he got his start, and that he pushed himself to follow his dreams of acting — and now, using his platform to raise awareness.