Remembering General Hospital’s Stone Cates On the Anniversary of His Death — Plus, Kimberly McCullough Reflects on Why the Story ‘Was Able to Break Through in Such a Lovely Way’
November 29, 1995 was an impossibly hard one for fans of the ABC soap. It was also what the Emmy winner calls “my finest moment as an actor.”
Newer daytime viewers may not realize it, but there was a time — a long time, in fact — when soaps not only entertained but informed their audiences. We still got our love triangles and catfights and evil twins and all that, but we also got stories that opened minds as well as broke hearts.
Back then, there were a lot more shows on the air, and none of them were as afraid of alienating even a few fans as the four remaining ones are now. So the genre’s trailblazers dealt frankly with topics that today would scare the bejesus out of the powers that be.
Agnes Nixon had All My Children’s Erica Kane exercise her right to have an abortion and awakened One Life to Live’s Carla Gray to the fact that Black lives matter. William J. Bell gave The Young and the Restless‘ Katherine Chancellor a girlfriend. Claire Labine and Paul Avila Mayer used religious differences as an insurmountable obstacle in the romance of Ryan’s Hope’s Patrick Ryan and Nancy Feldman. And at General Hospital, Labine gave a face to the AIDS epidemic: that of Stone Cates.
Credit: ABC/Courtesy of the Everett Collection (2)
By the time he was diagnosed as being HIV-positive, the audience was already enamored of Michael Sutton’s character, the ward of local mafioso Sonny Corinthos and first boyfriend of Robin Scorpio. We’d watched Kimberly McCullough’s teenage alter ego grow up on screen, so it was a big, big deal that we approved of Stone for her. Heck, we liked the coupling so much that we were always rooting for the kids to overcome the objections of her Uncle Mac to be together.
If only he’d been their biggest hurdle.
At first, the youngsters had practiced safe sex. But since he had tested negative for HIV, they threw caution to the wind — a decision they’d both come to regret more than words could say. When Stone came down with the flu, he got retested… and learned that he was HIV-positive. How could he possibly tell Robin? “I put you in danger,” he wept. (You can watch the full scene below.)
‘Oh, Robin, I See You!’
From that point on, Stone’s condition worsened with a speed that underscored the cruelty and relentlessness of the disease. As it progressed from HIV to full-blown AIDS — and Robin found out that she, too, was infected — the patient was given his options by doctors Alan Quartermaine and Tony Jones. (You can watch below.)
But each course of treatment seemed worse than the last, and neither was guaranteed to extend Stone’s life, much less make it one that he’d feel was worth living.
In the end, Stone elected to spend his final days at Sonny’s penthouse. There was nothing to be done by then but love him. He couldn’t even take comfort in the sight of Robin — AIDS had intensified the effects of Stone’s CMV retinitis and stripped him of his vision. At least he could feel Robin’s hand in his, and hear her voice, as soft as a caress.
“I’ll go get you something to eat, OK?” she said on November 29, 1995.
“Don’t leave me,” he replied, his face ashen, his words barely a whisper. “Go stand by the window in the light.”
Robin did as Stone asked, and slowly, little by little, she began to come into focus for him. He was so shocked that he gasped. Audibly gasped. “I see you,” he cried in disbelief. “Oh, Robin, I see you.”
Alas, her face would be the last thing that he would see in his short life. (You can watch below.)
Life After Death
Tears streaming down her face, Robin climbed into the bed where Stone lay, wrapped herself in his arms and wept. He was gone. When Sonny came in, Robin’s expression told him all that he needed to know. But what could he do with it? He paced as if he needed something to punch. He was a fixer. What the hell could he do with this pain that he couldn’t take away, not from Robin or himself? What could he do for Stone? Nothing. Sonny couldn’t take it.
Later, when the don was left alone with the boy that he loved like a son, he held Stone’s hand and allowed the anguish to eat him from the inside out. It tore through him like a razor blade, one that he couldn’t be sure he’d ever stop feeling.
Meanwhile, Mac called Luke Spencer for his niece. Luke knew. The minute Mac said that Robin wanted to speak with him, he knew what had happened. “Thank you for being so good to” Stone, Robin told him.
“It was an honor, love,” replied Luke. Robin’s dad used to call her that, she remembered. She could only wish that he was there with her now.
Finally, as Stone’s loved ones gathered at his deathbed, Robin mustered up the strength to tell them, “It’s gonna be OK.”
“How?” asked Sonny.
“I don’t know yet,” she admitted. “But we have to make it like that. It’s what he’d want.”
Life Goes On
Robin was right. It was OK. Eventually. Not right, not the way that it should have been, but OK. New drug therapies have allowed her to live a far longer and healthier life than Stone did. She was even able to marry and raise a family with fellow doctor Patrick Drake. (That’s them with daughter Emma above.)
But neither she nor Sonny ever forgot Stone. Neither did we. And when we think of him, and feel all over again the ache of his passing, we hope against hope that our shows will become braver in their storytelling, so that plots like Mike Corbin’s losing battle with Alzheimer’s disease become less remarkable for their rarity than for their exceptional quality. In the meantime…
A Tear-Stained Flashback
A quarter of a century after Stone’s passing, McCullough took to social media, saying that “25 years ago today, I experienced what would become my finest moment as an actor. My character lost her first love to AIDS.
“The love that poured through us that day was a reflection of the best of us, when we can see through the prejudice, and the fear of a disease and treat the person experiencing deterioration with compassion,” she continued. “Telling stories can be a vehicle for enlightenment, and yes, even soap operas can change the world. I believe we did that with the story of Robin and Stone.”
A Lasting Impact
In 2021, McCullough sat down with Maurice Benard (Sonny) to further discuss the significance of the storyline. “This was the first heterosexual couple ever in any medium to deal with AIDS,” she noted during an episode of his State of Mind podcast (which you can watch below). And “we didn’t harp on the fact of, ‘Well, how did he get it? If he was using drugs, he must be a loser.’
“That wasn’t the story,” she added. “The story was, ‘This is what you’re dealing with now, this is who you are as a person now, you’re a great person, I’m falling in love with you… we are going through this together.’ I loved that nonjudgmental, educational part about it.”
Soon, McCullough could tell that the storyline was affecting viewers. “People would come up to me all the time and say, ‘My brother’s gay, and my mom wouldn’t talk to him until this happened on the show,’” she related. “And it’s not like we were doing a gay storyline, but it was like some people had to see Robin, who they had watched grow up… They had to see her go through it for them to realize that, ‘Oh, this can happen to anyone. It’s not because my son’s gay, and that means he’s bad. It was able to break through in such a lovely way.”
Before you dry your eyes and move on to another article, stop off at the below photo gallery, which revisits highlights from the entire run of General Hospital.