General HospitalMaurice Benard is a superstar in the world of soap operas, but for millions living with bipolar disorder, he is a teacher, a sympathetic ear, a steady shoulder and a symbol of survival.
In less than two months, two of Benard’s costars on the ABC soap, who also had the mental health condition — characterized by extreme mood swings including depression and periods of mania, according to the Mayo Clinic — died at young ages.
Billy Miller, who played Jason Morgan and Drew Cain, died by suicide at age 43 in September, and recently Tyler Christopher — who won an Emmy for his portrayal of Nikolas Cassadine — died of a heart attack a week before his 51st birthday 31 . October.
A three-time Daytime Emmy winner for his portrayal of mobster Sonny Corinthos, Benard, 60, was 22 when he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1985. It was called manic depression at the time, and the disorder wasn’t as understood — or as openly discussed — as it is today.
‘General Hospital”s Maurice Benard talks about the mental illness — and violent mania — he hid
“I was just acting weird for about two weeks,” he tells PEOPLE, explaining that his behavior at the time included violence with his mother, which had never happened before. Then his mother called the police on him. But upon their arrival, Benard says he was acting perfectly normal. “My dad was crying; my mom was crying, but the cops couldn’t do anything because I became normal,” he recalls. “And then the next morning they took me to a mental institution.”
While he was in the county hospital for four or five days, Benard says he started acting like the girl Regan u exorcist, spitting on his brother, father and the big nurses in the facility.
“It was really scary in there,” he explains. “I was bound from the wrist, waist and ankles. And all I wanted to do was run away the whole time I was there. ‘Get me out of here! Get me out of here! Get me out!’ They didn’t know what I had for about a month, maybe two months.”
General Hospital star Maurice Benard and his wife Paula.
COURTESY OF VANESSA MARCIL
Benard met his wife Paula soon after and they were married in 1990. She saw his struggle with the disorder from the beginning but never wavered in her love, support and devotion.
There were times when Maurice even threatened to kill her, but, she said on her husband’s podcast, State of mind, that the man she saw at that moment, “That was not Maurice. He was sick.”
When asked if she had a hard time along the way and if she ever thought, “I didn’t sign up for this,” she simply said, “It’s no different than living with anyone who has any other problem. …I mean, yeah, it’s hard, you know, but I don’t think twice about it. I’m just doing whatever we have to do to fix it. … And when times are hard, that’s when we dig deeper and figure out what we need to do.”
Although he has had ups and downs in managing his condition over the past 40 years, during the pandemic, he says he experienced the lowest point that caused him to consider ending his life.
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“I thought about it every day,” he admits. When the lockdown was ordered, Benard’s parents lived with them, GH he was imprisoned for four months and his book toured the country for his memoirs Nothing General About: How Love (and Lithium) Saved Me in and Out of General Hospital it was put on hold.
He explains that what he would have said out loud at the time was “OK”, but what was going on in his head was quite different. “I got it,” but in my mind I thought, “And this is the end of the world.” ”
“I felt a real cold inside me. And then that night I was shaking like a fish in the open and crying like a baby. This has never happened to me in my life. Paula is on the bed and I say, ‘Honey, I’m done. What is happening to me?’ He says in a calm voice: ‘Honey, you’re fine. You will be fine.’ And I say: ‘What the hell… what do you mean. Am I going to be okay?’ I was stuck in this horrible panic that wouldn’t go away,” he continues.
Benard then started a podcast called State of mind, talking to fellow actors about every aspect of mental health. That edition helped, he says. A lots of. And it still is. But something still didn’t feel right. His book tour turned into one Zoom interview after another instead of a cross-country trip.
He reveals that he would talk to Dr. Oz or Dr. Drew or Charlemagne the God on Zoom, “And what I really wanted to say was, ‘I’m going to die. Can someone please save me?’ ”
Maurice Benard plays Sonny Corinthos on “General Hospital”.
Troy Harvey/ABC via Getty
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“It wouldn’t go away. And it was bad,” says Benard, admitting that he would look at the tree in front of his house and think about taking his own life.
“I was just making it up because I didn’t want to use the gun because it’s messy and ugly. That’s what I thought about every day—the tree. And I just did everything I could to survive.”
He says he would spend time with the menagerie of animals at his home south of Los Angeles, including several goats, because it would help many times. But this time there was no difference.
“I ran to my house, and as I walked in, I said, ‘God, you have to help me now because I can’t take it anymore.’ And I remember thinking about my family. And then I remember thinking, ‘Yes I am [kill myself]then he would give everyone watching State of mind green light to do that too.’ ” And that prevented him from making that fatal choice.
“Someone asked me why I thought I had bipolar disorder, and I said, ‘I’ve always believed that God wanted me to suffer to prevent other people from suffering,’” says Benard.
“That’s the key for me, I’m opening up to you right now as deeply as I can. Because I know other people are listening.”
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Line by dialing 988, texting “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Line at 741741 or going to 988lifeline.org.
Links: General Hospital’s Maurice Benard Talks Living with — and Surviving — Bipolar Disorder (Exclusive) – Tekmonk Bio, General Hospital’s Maurice Benard Talks Living with — and Surviving — Bipolar Disorder (Exclusive) – Kungfutv, General Hospital’s Maurice Benard Talks Living with — and Surviving — Bipolar Disorder (Exclusive) – Hot News