‘General Hospital’ celebrates 50th anniversary

By Chuck Barney

Contra Costa Times

Today, the ABC soap opera “General Hospital” celebrate its 50th anniversary (it debuted April 1, 1963).

Actor Maurice Benard shares in the excitement. He has played Sonny for 20 years, winning a Daytime Emmy award along the way. Benard recently signed a contract extension that keeps him on the show for at least two more years. He also finished shooting an independent feature film called “The Ghost and the Whale,” in which he plays the lead character — a man accused of murder after his wife mysteriously dies at sea.

Benard, who just turned 50, recently took time to chat about “General Hospital” and his latest showbiz adventures.

Q. Things looked pretty dire for the show there for a while. Are you somewhat surprised to still be here, on the brink of a golden anniversary?

A. Absolutely, considering that we were almost axed. I thought we were gone. Most of the actors thought it was over. But now we’re here, still going strong and better than ever.

Q. And do you mainly attribute that to the changes in the creative team?

A. Yeah, those guys came in with a goal in mind. They had a plan, and they made it work phenomenally. And now, it’s kind of like we’re born again. We’re excited and proud of the show. As for the future, the train is running. Let’s just see where it takes us.

Q. You recently signed a new two-year deal. Is that a vote of confidence in the show and the genre?

A. We’ll see what happens. I still love the character and the people. I really enjoy working with Kelly (Sullivan). Unless I’m bored, I’ll stick around. Nothing kills me more than boredom.

Q. In recent months, a lot of familiar faces have come back to “General Hospital.” Have you enjoyed these reunions?

A. Yeah, it’s kind of been like a revolving door, and it’s added some spice to life. It’s really cool to have people like Jack Wagner, John Stamos and Genie Francis back in the fold. They’re people I’ve watched a lot over the years. I don’t know if we can keep that door revolving for long. You have to have a staple of what the show really is and not confuse viewers. But it has been fun.

Q. You’ve played Sonny for two decades. How long can you see yourself going on with him?

A. To tell the truth, I wanted to retire at 50. But I couldn’t do it. We’ve got kids and bills to pay. Maybe I’ll be around for the next 50 years. Maybe I’ll end up playing Sonny with a cane and white hair, or no hair at all. We’ll see.

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