Ask just about anyone who watched GENERAL HOSPITAL in the mid-1990s what the soap’s most impactful storyline was at the time, and there’s a pretty good chance that they’ll tell you it was a teenaged Robin losing her first love, Stone Cates, to AIDS. Today, Nov. 29, marks the 26th anniversary of the day that a blind Stone saw Robin standing at his bedroom window moments before he took his last breath — and the beloved character’s portrayer, Michael Sutton, still says that the passionate, heartbreaking, and educational tale remains one of the highlights of his career.
Sutton — now a top-producing real estate agent in Los Angeles — sat down with his former GH mentor, Maurice Benard (Sonny), for a chat on the latter’s State of Mind YouTube series to talk about the soap’s groundbreaking story. The tale of Robin and Stone — a young, heterosexual couple both becoming infected with HIV and Stone eventually dying from complications due to AIDS — left a lasting legacy both in the daytime genre and social culture at large. “They gave us a storyline that was bigger than us, and it scared us,” Sutton reflected. “And we had to meet the level because the world was dying from this disease at that time with no cure. And we had to tell the story.”
Perhaps even more important, Sutton added, was the soap’s somewhat controversial decision to have a straight character succumb to the disease. “What’s a heterosexual actor and character doing portraying what was, at that time, a gay subject?” he pointed out. “So we had that responsibility as well.”
Over the months-long storyline, Sutton, Benard, Kimberly McCullough (Robin), and all the other actors involved poured their hearts into their performances as Stone battled AIDS. “We were living the characters,” he said. “If you were human, we were touching your soul. Whatever God particle we have in us, we were tapping into that. It was raw, it was genuine, it was real. And I think that’s what we all aspire to” as actors.
Sutton, who earned a Daytime Emmy nomination for his work that year, confessed that nothing else he ever did quite compared to the experience he had during that powerful GH storyline. “Eventually, I stopped acting because I felt like I did the role of a lifetime, even if it was on a soap opera,” he admitted. “And I say ‘only a soap opera’ [but] it was the best medium to do that story because it was a film opera for a year and a half. It was a special time.”
The highly emotional storyline was taxing on Stone’s portrayer, however. “At 25 years old, you’re not supposed to be thinking about death, your existence, the subject matter that we were talking about, even though I’m a character,” Sutton shared. “As an actor in real life, I had to entertain those subject matters and topics. And sometimes, if you’re having to play that for too long, you can get yourself sick because you’re worked up, you’re nervous, you’re stressed, the anxiety.… As an actor, we subjected ourselves to that. I felt it changed me forever.”
Stone’s storyline changed a generation of GH viewers as well.
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