For decades, soap operas featured the good guys, the bad guys, and very little in between. The hardened criminals either stayed that way or reformed and became flawless heroes. Then, Maurice Benard came along as General Hospital’s Sonny Corinthos and turned that ‘rule’ on its head, turning a complicated and multi-faceted criminal character into the show’s leading man.
Six Months Turned Into 30 Years For Maurice Benard
The year was 1993 and Maurice Benard was already a soap opera name from his time as All My Children’s Nico Kelly, a role that lasted from 1987-1990. When GH came along and wanted to bring Benard back to the daytime television fold, he was told he could play mafia heir Damian Smith (a part that ultimately went to Leigh McCloskey) or nightclub owner Sonny Corinthos. Benard chose Sonny because he liked the name and because the role was only supposed to last six months when Damian was envisioned to stick around for two years.
Benard didn’t want to commit to a multi-year contract so Sonny it was. Little did he know and little did we know that 30 years later, he would still be around celebrating three decades as Port Charles’ coffee king with a very important and consequential side business nobody is supposed to discuss, but everyone knows about.
When Sonny first debuted, he was the seedy owner of a seedy strip club who got teenage Karen Wexler (played by Cari Shayne at the time) hooked on drugs and into his bed. That kind of character is typically not supposed to last long, but there was just something about the way Benard played him that told us there was much more lurking beneath the surface and fans were intrigued. Six months turned into a year, and by 1994, Sonny had his very own love interest in Vanessa Marcil’s Brenda Barrett. The rest, as they say, is soap opera history.
Sonny And Brenda’s Romance Was Brief But Epic
Some fans (perhaps even this one) believe that Sonny and Brenda could be endgame and would be endgame if Marcil ever chose to return to the soap. From the moment they first shared scenes together in a car dealership, Benard and Marcil were electric together, creating a kind of magic in a bottle that’s hard to duplicate. Brenda even made Sonny attempt to leave the mafia life behind, but that attempt didn’t last long and led Brenda to wear a wire to see what Sonny was really up to when he wasn’t running his new nightclub, Luke’s Place.
The scene where Sonny confronted Brenda over the wire was unforgettable because it was both emotionally and physically brutal, making it hard to watch, but also hard to turn away. We saw Sonny’s pain over Brenda’s betrayal but also saw him become violent and terrifying. It wasn’t something you saw every day on soaps, and without a capable actor in the role, that could have been the end of Sonny as a sympathetic ‘villain.’ It was the end of Sonny and Brenda for a while and the two never found long-term happiness together again despite more tries over the years.
While Benard left the soap in 1998, we were thrilled to see him back on the Port Charles scene in 1999 and he has remained there ever since.
Maurice Benard Turns A Mobster Into A Leading Man
In the 24 years since Benard returned to GH after that one-year hiatus, we’ve gotten to see the softer sides of Sonny, as well as those hardened edges. Sonny became a husband and a father many times over, and his relationship with each one of his children is both unique and heartwarming. (And who doesn’t love to see Benard interact with children, something that always puts smiles on our faces?) In 2023, Sonny has adult children, as well as two little girls and every scene he has with them offers the family feeling soaps are known for.
We have also seen the darker side of Sonny, a man tormented by an abusive childhood who also suffers from bipolar disorder. We have watched him fall in love countless times, and marry Carly Spencer (Laura Wright) a whopping five times. Our hearts broke in 2021 as Sonny said goodbye to his father, Mike Corbin (played by veteran actor Max Gail), whose life was taken from him by Alzheimer’s Disease, and a year later, a whole new Sonny arose in the form of Mike the Bartender.
Nixon Falls Gives New Life To Sonny Corinthos
For nine months, Sonny’s loved ones believed he was dead after he washed up on the Pennsylvania side of the river in the fictional town of Nixon Falls (which is apparently near Loving’s Corinth). He lived life there as Mike The Bartender with no memories of who he was. That simpler life seemed to suit Sonny, away from the pressures of running a criminal enterprise (that doesn’t traffic drugs, humans, or guns) and away from the constant bickering with Carly.
Of course, the story got super soapy when Nina Reeves (Cynthia Watros) found him and didn’t tell him who he was for a myriad of complicated reasons. Nina and Sonny fell in love and Sonny even forgave her after he got his memories back and learned how she lied. The Sonny that returned to Port Charles and mob life has more swagger and displays more style than the one who battled Julian Jerome on a New Jersey footbridge before being presumed dead.
This new Sonny is so self-aware that he was able to joke with Anna Devane (Finola Hughes) about being Tony Soprano, the family man mobster who could compartmentalize the two aspects of his life on the hit series The Sopranos. It’s been a 30-year evolution to get here and we wouldn’t have followed this journey as long as we have if it weren’t for the talents of Maurice Benard. We can’t wait to see what he does next.
General Hospital airs weekdays on ABC. Check your local listings for airtimes. For more about what’s coming up in Port Charles, check out all the latest GH spoilers, and for an in-depth look at the show’s history, click here.
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