‘General Hospital’ star Maurice Benard on soap’s 60 years
On- and off-screen, loyalty is everything for “General Hospital” star Maurice Benard, 60.
For three decades, he’s played mob boss Sonny Corinthos on the iconic ABC soap opera, but he initially feared it would be a short gig.
“When I first started … I had my third manic episode,” Benard, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 22, told The Post.
“So it sticks in my head how loyal and incredible they were not to fire me. If I want to leave or something, I always think about that time.”
Benard has won three Daytime Emmys in his decades on the show, which is the longest-running scripted drama on TV.
On Saturday, it celebrates its 60th anniversary.
Viewers first checked into “General Hospital” on April 1, 1963, and Benard and his castmates are still stirring up love — and drama — every weekday afternoon in the fictional upstate New York town of Port Charles.
The prescription for success is “a lot of hard work” and “fans who are more loyal than any fans in the whole world,” according to Benard.
The actor first tuned into “GH” — as the show is known by its diehard fans — as a teenager.
“I watched it when I was sick when I was about 13,” he said. “I watched ‘All My Children’ and ‘General Hospital,’ and I ended up being on both shows.”
He got his start on “All My Children,” appearing on that now-defunct ABC soap as bad boy Nico Kelly from 1987 to 1990. Three years later, he headed to “General Hospital.”
When he was offered the choice to play one of two gangsters on the show — dimpled Brooklynite Sonny Corinthos or nepo-baby mobster Damian Smith — he chose Sonny.
“I said, ‘Ah, that’s a cool name!’”
It wasn’t meant to be a 30-year job.
“It was actually a six-month contract,” said Benard, whose character was initially more of a villain than an antihero.
“And then I decided to stay, and I made some different choices as an actor for the character, and the audience started to like him.”
“General Hospital” hit its pop-culture heights with the wedding of Luke (Anthony Geary) and Laura (Genie Francis) in 1981.
Sonny became half of his own soap supercouple later in the ’90s, as the dark and dangerous older man seducing trust-fund diva Brenda (Vanessa Marcil).
He was initially hesitant about the plot twist.
“I didn’t feel like we were ready yet to be that supercouple because I thought that Vanessa wasn’t all that strong as an actress yet,” he said. “So I took Vanessa under my wing, and she worked her butt off, and she became an incredible actress.”
After Marcil left “GH” to pursue a prime-time TV career, going from “Beverly Hills, 90210” to “Las Vegas,” the Sonny and Brenda era faded.
Still, Benard’s alter ego — who also has bipolar disorder — found supercouple chemistry again with scheme queen Carly, who has been played by multiple actresses, including Sarah Joy Brown, Tamara Braun and currently Laura Wright.
“But there was one that didn’t work,” he said of Jennifer Bransford, who briefly played Carly in 2005 before she was fired.
But the “GH” love interest Benard wishes he would have had but never did is Demi Moore, who played Jackie Templeton on the soap from 1982 to 1984.
Still, it’s been a great run.
And after years of being a soap heartthrob, Los Angeles-based Benard — who has four children with his wife of 33 years, Paula Smith — is embracing his age, including his gray hair.
“Sometimes my hairdresser paints a little more, sometimes less,” he said with a laugh. “It is what it is.”
Just don’t ask him to do any of the torso-baring love scenes he was once known for.
“I don’t want to do those,” Benard said. “I’m kinda over that.”