On this week’s episode of State of Mind, GENERAL HOSPITAL star Maurice Benard (Sonny) welcomed Leslie Charleson (Monica) to his YouTube series for an intimate chat that covered topics like her passion for horses, her ground-breaking breast cancer storyline on the soap… and the mental illness that caused her younger sister to take her own life. “My sister was bipolar,” and emotional Charleson sighed, “and she committed suicide in ’96.”
An actress herself, Kate Charleson made her movie debut in the 1983 Oscar-winning film Terms of Endearment as Janice, the younger grad student mistress of Jeff Daniels’ character, Flap. According to Kate’s IMDb profile, she worked steadily for about five years before her last credit, the 1988 TV movie My First Love, starring Bea Arthur and Joan Van Ark. As Charleson explained, she and her half-sister weren’t particularly close due to the eight-year age gap between them. But she’d done what she could to help Kate over the years, despite not knowing much about bipolar disorder at the time. “I haven’t talked about it much,” Charleson confessed. “It was a tough time because we didn’t really know what it was about.”
The GH star had, at different times, both bailed her younger sister out of jail and checked her into a local hospital for treatment. “And she made me mad, too,” Charleson admitted. “She would call all the time. And just keep calling. That was the high, and then I wouldn’t see her for a long time.”
The day that Kate died — Oct. 12, 1996 — is one that her older sister will never forget. “When it happened, I had stopped answering the phone,” Charleson said, explaining that Kate had been calling over and over again and she had to work on the soap that day. When she went home for lunch that day, Charleson listened to the voice messages her sister had left on the answering machine and immediately knew something was wrong. “Something in her tone… She said she was so tired and to take care of her cats. And it wasn’t my fault.”
Somewhat in shock, Charleson returned to the studio but didn’t last very long before she felt the need to check on her sister. “I got out of work early,” the actress recalls. “She had an apartment right here [in Los Angeles]. I went over and she didn’t answer. But she was on the first floor. I went over to her window, and she had hung herself. She was only 43.”
As Benard detailed his own struggles with bipolar disorder and suicide ideation, Charleson shared that she wished she’d known then as much as is known now about the mental illness. “She came out [of a treatment facility] and said, ‘These doctors don’t know what they’re talking [about]. They said I am bipolar. Can you believe that?’” the actress recalled. “We didn’t know enough. We didn’t know what you know back then. I wish I had that information, and she would have accepted it. She refused it and denied it, and therefore everything was just a spiral.”
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or know someone who is, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255). You can also reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.
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