General Hospital’s Leslie Charleson Opens Up About the Heartbreak That Haunts Her: ‘I Haven’t Really Spoken About This’
Before getting into this story, we want to include a gentle trigger warning as it deals with suicide.
When General Hospital’s Leslie Charleson (Monica) talked to Maurice Benard (Sonny) for his State of Mind podcast, the two chatted about everything from her childhood to her time working with the late, beloved Stuart Damon (Alan).
But there was one topic that tore at our hearts, even as we understood how important it was to bring into the light of day.
“My sister was bipolar,” Charleson shared fairly early in the interview, “and she committed suicide in ’96. I’ve thought about it knowing that we were going to talk, and I haven’t talked about it much.”
The conversation that followed was painful and difficult, with both actors having to pause here and there as their emotions overcame them. As we all know, Benard is also bipolar, so it’s something he understands well.
“It was a tough time because we didn’t really know what it was about at all,” Charleson began. Being bipolar wasn’t understood like it is now, and when the actress’ sister was diagnosed, she just thought the doctors were full of it and moved on. Charleson, however, described the manic highs and depressive lows that are so familiar to Benard.
“She would call all the time and just keep calling,” the actress explained, admitting that her sister would make her so mad sometimes. “That was the highs. And then I wouldn’t see her for a long time.”
“When it happened, I had stopped answering the phone,” she shared. “She was doing one of those keep calling and calling, and I refused. And I had to work that day.”
But when she went home for lunch from the set, she decided to listen to her voice messages, and her sister had left her one that made her pause. There was “something in her tone. She just said she was so tired. And to take care of her cats. And it wasn’t my fault.”
Charleson went back to work but left early because she knew something was very wrong. She then went to her sister’s apartment, got no answer and looked in the window. That was when she saw that her sister had hanged herself at just 43.
It’s a horrible thing to find and an incredibly difficult thing to talk about, and Charleson still clearly feels the loss and the pain of how it happened. Benard stepped in to try and reassure her, though.
Credit: ABC/Courtesy of the Everett Collection
“First of all, what you’re saying right now,” he began, “what you’re doing, Leslie, is going to help so many people. And I know. That’s a fact. But I will say, I know a lot of times people feel guilty, or they should’ve done this, done that.”
Without a word, an emotional Charleson acknowledged that heartbreaking truth as she raised her hand and nodded.
“Anybody can do it at any time,” Benard insisted. “Nobody should feel like they could’ve done anything. And I’ll tell you this, during the pandemic, every morning, I was promoting my book, I had this anxiety that was hell on earth. Hell on earth. Didn’t sleep, was shaking, and every morning, I wanted to kill myself.”
“Every morning was bad for four months,” Benard continued, his voice catching. “And I would go outside, and there was a tree, and I would walk around my property asking God, ‘I can’t do it. I can’t do this anymore.’ And I would cry, because I’d see this tree and I’d say, ‘How can I do it?’”
He got through it, he says, because he wanted help. He sought out professional help, he changed his medication and now he’s talking about it and helping others talk about it who may be going through something heartachingly similar.
And that’s what Charleson’s conversation is doing for people too, he told her. It’s helping them feel less alone.
In the end, Benard thanked Charleson for coming on the show, and she replied that she should be thanking him.
“I haven’t really spoken about this,” the actress told her host, “because it wasn’t something you just bring up in idle conversation.”
These types of conversations are important, and having the knowledge and understanding that we have now is crucial, she noted, “for those people that have a relative. They can be more knowledgeable and be more helpful and know what to do when those signs come up.”
“I wish to God I had known,” she concluded. “But we didn’t know then.”
Our hearts go out to Charleson. If you or anyone you know may be considering suicide, there’s always help out there. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7, every day of the year either online or at 1-800-273-8255.
It can be tough to mourn those we’ve lost, but it can help to remember the happy memories they brought. Before you go, if you feel up to it, you may want to go through our gallery of soap stars we lost in the past year, and remember those who, even if we never met, brought joy into our homes and hearts.
<p>Longtime <em>General Hospital</em> actor <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/general-hospital/news/588852/general-hospital-john-reilly-sean-donely-dead/" target="_blank">John Reilly passed away at 84</a> on January 9, 2021. Fans will never forget Port Charles’ Sean Donely, as well as the various other daytime characters he played. Like many others, fellow <em>General Hospital</em> actress <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/soaps/news/588922/john-reilly-dead-general-hospital-costars-tributes/" target="_blank">Finola Hughes recalled her dear friend</a>, “Darling John Reilly… One of the first days I walked on the set, this tall, handsome man in a leather jacket sauntered towards me. In his deep, all-American growl, he welcomed me to the show and told me he would be there for me should I ever need anything. Boy was he true to his word.” </p>
<p>Soap opera vet <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/soaps/news/589384/peter-mark-richman-soap-star-dynasty-dead-tribute/" target="_blank">Peter Mark Richman passed away</a> at the age of 93 on January 14, 2021. He created the role of C.C. Capwell on <em>Santa Barbara</em> and appeared in the primetime soapy hit <em>Dynasty</em>, as well as on the Saturday morning children shows <em>Electra Woman</em> and <em>Dyna Girl</em>. </p>
<p>Soap alum <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/soaps/news/592147/general-hospital-christopher-pennock-soap-star-dead-76/" target="_blank">Christopher Pennock passed away</a> on February 12, 2021. The actor appeared on <em>Days of Our Lives, General Hospital, The Young and the Restless</em> and <em>Guiding Light</em>. </p>
<p><em>Guiding Light</em> alum <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/soaps/news/593534/guiding-light-dynasty-geoffrey-scott-dead-79/" target="_blank">Geoffrey Scott passed away</a> on February 23, 2021 at the age of 79. He also appeared on <em>General Hospital</em> and played Krystle Carrington’s first husband Mark Jennings on <em>Dynasty</em> — not to mention appeared in numerous popular commercials. Remember the Marlboro man?</p>
<p><em>Guiding Light</em> and <em>All My Children</em> alum <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/soaps/news/593608/soap-star-dead-gil-rogers-all-my-children-guiding-light/" target="_blank">Gil Rogers passed away</a> on March 2, 2021 at 87. The actor will always be remembered by soap fans for playing one of daytime’s most notorious villains.</p>
<p>Legendary actress <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/soaps/news/595651/jessica-walter-dead-at-80-arrested-development-soap-actress/" target="_blank">Jessica Walter passed away</a> on March 24, 2021. To daytime fans, she’ll be remembered for playing Eleanor Armitage on <em>One Life to Live</em>, but to others as the matriarch on <em>Arrested Development</em> — not to mention numerous other credits.</p>
<p>Actor <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/soaps/news/595774/soap-opera-star-dead-robert-rodan-dark-shadows-adam/" target="_blank">Robert Rodan passed away</a> on March 25, 2021 at the age of 83. He’s known for playing Adam, Frankenstein’s monster stand-in, on <em>Dark Shadows</em>.</p>
<p><em>General Hospital</em> alum Billie Hayes (ex-Agent Brighton O’Reilly) passed away at 96 of natural causes on Thursday, April 29. Former co-star Tristan Rogers (Robert) recalled their “magical relationship” <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/general-hospital/news/599133/general-hospital-tristan-rogers-mourns-co-star-billie-hayes-dead-96/" target="_blank">in a remembrance post</a>. </p>
<p>Soap alum <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/soaps/news/599495/soap-opera-star-dies-dead-tawny-kitaen-whitesnake-video/" target="_blank">Tawny Kitaen passed away</a> on May 7, 2021. She will always be remembered for her iconic 1980s Whitesnake videos, as well as the 1984 film <em>Bachelor Party</em>.</p>
<p>Soap alum <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/soaps/news/601277/soap-star-dead-robert-hogan-another-world-general-hospital/" target="_blank">Robert J. Hogan passed away</a> on May 27, 2021. He was known for roles on <em>Another World, General Hospital</em> and other daytime and primetime hits.</p>
<p>John Gabriel <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/soaps/news/602218/soap-star-john-gabriel-dead-90-ryans-hope-seneca-beaulac/" target="_blank">passed away on June 13, 2021</a>. He was best known for his role as Dr. Seneca Beaulac on <em>Ryan’s Hope</em> and appeared on various other soap operas.</p>
<p><em>All My Children’s</em> <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/soaps/news/603275/all-my-children-ray-macdonnell-dead-joe-martin-soap-star/" target="_blank">Ray MacDonnell passed away</a> from natural causes on June 10, 2021. The daytime vet was best known for playing the role of Pine Valley’s Dr. Joe Martin.</p>
<p><em>General Hospital</em> favorite <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/general-hospital/news/603395/general-hospital-stuart-damon-alan-quartermaine-dead-84/" target="_blank">Stuart Damon passed away</a> at 84 due following a struggle with renal failure. The actor was best known for playing Port Charles’ Dr. Alan Quartermaine.</p>
<p><em>Days of Our Lives</em> and <em>Another World</em> alum <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/days-of-our-lives/news/603631/days-of-our-lives-another-world-alum-philece-sampler-dead/" target="_blank">Philece Sampler died in July 2021</a>. She played the daughter of Salem’s Stefano DiMera and had numerous credits throughout the years.</p>
<p><em>General Hospital</em> alum <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/general-hospital/news/615270/general-hospital-bergen-williams-dead-big-alice/" target="_blank">Bergen Williams passed away</a> on July 20, 2021. She was 62 and will always be remembered for playing Port Charles’ Alice Gunderson.</p>
<p>Soap vet <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/general-hospital/news/605869/port-charles-actor-jay-pickett-frank-dead-while-filming-movie/" target="_blank">Jay Pickett passed away on July 30</a> while on the set of his new movie. The actor is best known for his <em>Port Charles</em> and <em>Days of Our Lives’</em> roles. </p>
<p><em>Another World’s</em> <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/soaps/news/607705/soap-star-dead-micki-grant-another-world-first-black-contract-actress/" target="_blank">Micki Grant passed away</a> on August 21, 2021 at the age of 92. She was the first Black actress who held a contract soap role.</p>
<p><em>Dynasty</em> and <em>All My Children</em> actor <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/soaps/news/607749/all-my-children-dynasty-soap-star-michael-nader-dead/" target="_blank">Michael Nader passed away</a> on August 23, 2021 from cancer. He was best known for playing Erica Kane’s husband, Dimitri, on the ABC soap. </p>
<p>In September, the soap vet’s colleague at the University of Nevada, where he worked as a film professor, disclosed that he had <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/soaps/news/610630/soap-star-michael-tylo-dead-73-bold-beautiful-general-hospital/" target="_blank">passed away at 73</a>. Though he’d appeared on everything from <em>Another World</em> to <em>The Bold and the Beautiful</em>, he is most vividly remembered as Quint Chamberlain on <em>Guiding Light</em> and twins Blade and Rick on <em>The Young and the Restless.</em></p>
<p><em>The Young and the Restless</em> veteran actor <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/the-young-and-the-restless/news/614674/young-restless-jerry-douglas-dead-died-john-abbott/" target="_blank">Jerry Douglas passed away</a> on November 9, 2021 at the age of 88. He will always be remembered for playing Genoa City’s John Abbott, the patriarch of one of the CBS soap’s legendary families.</p>
<p>Soap actress <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/soaps/news/616204/soap-star-dead-as-the-world-turns-lisa-brown-martha-byrne-tribute/" target="_blank">Lisa Brown passed away</a> on Novemver 24, 2021 at 67. She was best known for playing Nola Reardon on <em>Guiding Light </em>and Iva Snyder on <em>As the World Turns.</em></p>
<p>Former soap actress Arlene Dahl passed away on November 29 at the age of 96. Daytime fans may recall her role as Lucinda Schenck on <em>One Life to Live</em>, as well as Lady Lucille on <em>All My Children</em>.</p>
<p>Eddie Mekka, best known for playing Carmine “The Big Ragoo” Ragusa on <em>Laverne & Shirley</em> <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/the-bold-and-the-beautiful/news/616684/soap-laverne-shirley-eddie-mekka-dead/" target="_blank">passed away at the age of 69</a> on November 27, 2021. Daytime fans may remember him from his roles on <em>Bold & Beautiful, Guiding Light, Sunset Beach</em> and <em>Young & Restless</em>. </p>
<p>Actress <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/days-of-our-lives/news/617440/days-of-our-lives-star-dead-rhonda-stubbins-white-lady-vi/" target="_blank">Rhonda Stubbins White passed away</a> on December 13, 2021 at the age of 60. She was known to daytime fans as Lady Vi on <em>Days of Our Lives</em>. </p>
<p><em>The Bold and the Beautiful</em> alum <a href="https://soaps.sheknows.com/the-bold-and-the-beautiful/news/604911/betty-white-dead-obituary-bold-beautiful-ann-douglas/" target="_blank">Betty White passed away</a> at the age of 99 on Friday, December 31, 2021. She’ll be remembered for numerous roles including the CBS soap’s Ann Douglas and Rose on <em>The Golden Girls</em>.</p>
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