Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Books: GH Star Maurice Benard's "Nothing General About It"

Nothing General About It: How Love (And Lithium) Saved Me On And Off General Hospital
By Maurice Benard, with Susan Black
William Morrow; hardcover, $27.99; available today, Tuesday, April 7

Sonny Corinthos is one of the most recognizable characters on television, making his mark in the soap opera "General Hospital" since 1993.

If you find Sonny's exploits compelling, you will certainly feel that way about the story of the actor who plays him, Maurice Benard, as he reveals in his entertaining memoir, Nothing General About It: How Love (And Lithium) Saved Me On And Off General Hospital.

Maurice looks back on his rough childhood in a small town in California and his tenuous relationship with his father. After a rough time in his teens in which he would get into fights all the time in high school, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was just twenty years old. The signs started developing in childhood, when he had difficulty understanding the jolting mood swings he experienced, and how a doctor finally saved his life.

Through it all, Maurice, whose real name is Mauricio Jose Morales, remained steadfast in his commitment to be an actor, aspiring to the be the next Al Pacino. An acting coach could sense it immediately, as Maurice talked and dressed like Pacino, and even faked smoking to look like him before focusing on his craft. He even named his dog Corleone after Pacino's role of Michael Corleone in "The Godfather." Anyone who has seen him play the brooding, yet charismatic, Sonny would say he succeeded.

While in his late teens, he made it clear that he wanted to be an actor, but those ambitions were shot down by his father when Maurice voiced that as a goal while watching "All My Children."

Maurice got his first big break when he won the contest to be San Francisco's Most Watchable Man, which impressed his father because that is where the family settled and established their home.

That was in 1985, and did not have the impact Maurice expected. Soon after, he began to have hallucinations and his family placed him in a psychiatric ward, which he claims "was a miracle drug" for him. That was around the time he began courting Paula, his future wife, and they moved to San Francisco, where he starred in two theatrical productions, Three Views of Mount Fuji and Community at Risk

In addition to a thriving theater scene, San Francisco was the home of many bands, and MTV, which was just starting out. He tried out for a part in a music video from R.O.A.R., which was made up of members from Carlos Santana's band. 

They wanted someone who was Italian, and since Mauricio Jose Morales didn't exactly sound Italian, that's what prompted him to change his name to Maurice Benard, a shortened version of his first name and his grandmother's maiden name. He ended up getting the role in the music video out of the blue, and the effect of his new name led people to think he's Italian and that Sonny is also Italian, when in fact he is Greek and Cuban.

Benard got his big break in 1987 when he tried out for "All My Children." After missing out on two roles that he tried out for, the producers liked him so much that he was cast in the newly created role of Niko Kelly, a "young rough type," bad guy Creed's nephew.

Niko was so popular that the producers kept adding storylines for him and Maurice was nominated for the Soap Opera Digest Outstanding Male Newcomer Award. Niko and Tad Martin shared a lot of story lines, so Maurice became good friends with the actor who played him, Michael Knight.

After returning to the West Coast in 1990, Maurice and Pauls settled in West Los Angeles and, after much resistance, he was cast as Desi Arnaz in the TV movie, Lucy & Desi: Before the Laughter, which faced a lot of backlash. He then was up for the part of Tom Hanks' character's boyfriend in Philadelphia, a role that went to Antonio Banderas.

Just as he was about to leave Los Angeles in 1993, he gets the call to cast for General Hospital the role of Sonny Corinthos, and he debuted that August. Benard writes of his friendship with Kin Shriner, who suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder and how they bonded over having to overcome personal demons. It also was a thrill for Benard to be on GH, where he got to work with Luke and Laura - Tony Geary and Genie Francis - whose marriage captivated the nation in the early 1980s.

Benard writes of how tough a character Sonny was in the beginning, with one storyline being how he took in a sixteen-year-old named Karen, giving her drugs and having sex with her. The redeeming quality about Sonny was how fiercely loyal he was and would do anything for the people he loves. 

The Sonny character now is a lot softer, and Maurice writes that he wanted to play him as a combination of characters he liked growing up, such as the detective Columbo, who was questioning and strategic, cool like Billy Jack, and yes, powerful like Pacino's Michael Corleone.

Maurice has been nominated for several Daytime Emmy Awards, and won the 2003 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor. He also won three Soap Opera Digest Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor, as well as their award for Hottest Soap Couple, shared with Vanessa Marcil; Favorite Couple, shared with Sarah Brown, and the Favorite Actor Award.

In addition to all his accolades as an actor, Benard is an advocate for mental health awareness and gives a voice to all those struggling with manic depression or bipolar disorder. He serves as an inspiration of strength, honesty, and perseverance in the mental health world, and his character struggles with the same disease, raising awareness about bipolar disorder and its effect on millions of people.

Nothing General About It is one of the most compelling stories about an actor striving for success, and how much Benard had to overcome to become one of the most respected and recognizable actors on television.

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