Kimberly McCullough and Michael Sutton
He's Stoned again! Long-missing fan fave Michael Sutton returns to General Hospital September 28-29, some 15 years after his character, Stone Cates, died of AIDS in one of the most powerful and tragic love stories ever. This time around, Stone will appear to his girlfriend Robin (Kimberly McCullough), whom he unknowingly infected with HIV, when she's trapped in a well and devastated by a crapload of problems (her broken marriage, her husband's psycho ex-girlfriend). TV Guide Magazine spoke with the Emmy-nominated Sutton, who quit acting several years ago and became hugely successful in the L.A. restaurant and nightclub biz. He currently owns the hot West Hollywood lounge Guys & Dolls.
TV Guide Magazine: It's hard to believe a decade and a half have passed because the Robin-Stone saga still packs such a punch. For sheer boldness in storytelling, no one in daytime drama has topped it. Does that surprise you?
Sutton: It's all pretty surreal. A while back someone sent me a soap magazine poll on the all-time top love stories. They had Luke and Laura as No. 1 and Robin and Stone were No. 2. People still remember it and love it and want to talk about it. I'm blown away by the magnitude. In some ways, it seems like no time has passed at all. When I showed up at the GH studio there was Steve Burton [Jason] and Vanessa Marcil [Brenda] doing a scene together — just like the old days. It was like I was in a time warp! Kimberly and I had only seen each other once or twice since I left the show but when we got ready to rehearse our eyes instantly welled up. Both of us were right back to where we were 15 years ago. We were shocked at how connected we remain to the story.
TV Guide Magazine: Of course, GH has helped this along by keeping Stone's memory alive. The characters, especially Robin and Sonny [Maurice Benard], talk about him all the time.
Sutton: And the whole AIDS story is still so relevant. There's still no cure and it affects so many millions more people now than it did back then. It has become a global epidemic. GH chose to do it as a heterosexual story to affect the most people possible. They did a lot of research and educated a lot of people. It was important to get it right and I give the show a lot of credit. They did that story at the highest of levels. And of course it stays relevant because Robin still deals with her HIV every day.
TV Guide Magazine After Stone's death, didn't he hang around as a spirit?
Sutton: Yes, and at that point I was so emotionally drained and exhausted that I begged them to end it. I had just come off nine straight months on the show dealing with disease, drugs, life, death, time. It was really heavy. I remember having to sit down with the producers and say, "You've got to let Stone die! Really die!" I just couldn't continue as an apparition. On some level, I was worried about the psychosomatic effect on my mind and body. In order to act something like that, you have to live it, and that required putting myself through a long, long period of trauma. And don't forget that back in the mid-'90s we were all dealing with AIDS and HIV in real-life, too. Stone got it because he had a girlfriend who was an intravenous drug user and we were doing the story at a time when there was a lot of casualness about sex and drugs. At that time, every one of us in our late teens and twenties could relate in some way — we all had friends who had a drug problem and friends who were having unprotected sex because they were straight and didn't think of themselves as susceptible. It wasn't just a soap story. It was a story that could easily happen to anyone.
TV Guide Magazine: This time around, Stone is not a spirit or a ghost. It's more like he's in Robin's battered psyche, right?
Sutton: Yeah. She's exhausted and delirious and feels like she wants to give up. She's ready for her life to be over, even though she has a baby at home, and it's like Stone is giving her a pep talk. It's a chance for the two characters to have closure, a chance to put the past in the past and move on. But it's all in Robin's mind. She has all the wisdom she needs inside of her, inherently, and she just needs a reminder.
TV Guide Magazine: There's rumor you may return to GH to counsel a certain mobster.
Sutton: Yeah, they've certainly left it open for Stone and Sonny to have some conversations. I like the idea, because it's a setup that's not cheesy.
TV Guide Magazine: Why'd you quit acting?
Sutton: I had gotten into club promoting back when I was on GH via my dad [the renowned veteran Hollywood press agent Joe Sutton] and it soon became a great business for me. About five years ago I started a restaurant company and took on outside investors. Once I did that, I stopped acting because I felt an obligation to treat their money with respect and give it 100 percent. I ended up opening four or five restaurants and a club and when the economy turned, I sold off all the restaurants, got rid of a partnership I had at the time, and opened up Guys & Dolls.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you miss show biz?
Sutton: [Laughs] I feel like I never left! Guys & Dolls has a very high-end celebrity and socialite clientele. I grew up in this business. Bill Cosby was the best man at my parents' wedding. Elton John used to take my mom shopping and they'd come home with 30 pairs of shoes and a few feather boas. But I never wanted to be a celebrity. I love acting as a craft. If I hadn't done GH, I would never have known if I can act, and now I know that I can. But I wanted the luxuries of life. I wanted to live well. After GH, I did a few movies but acting wasn't paying the bills. I didn't need to be a struggling actor to prove I loved the profession. Once I made my decision to get out, it was easy. When GH called, I was happy to go back because now it's a choice rather than a necessity. [Laughs] And I think I'm now a better actor because of this business I'm in. My patrons have become character studies for me. I've met every type of personality disorder that's out there!
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