• “General Hospital” is the world’s longest-running scripted drama series and America’s longest-running soap opera.
• It was created by Frank and Doris Hursley, and set in the fictional city of Port Charles, New York.
• John Reilly portrayed Sean Donely from 1984 to 1995, and briefly returned to the role for a couple of episodes in 2008 and 201•
• Sean had various daring adventures, such as helping Luke Spencer evade murder charges and a vendetta against Cesar Faison.
• John Reilly was a late bloomer in the acting industry and was nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role in a Daytime Serial at the Soap Opera Digest Awards in 1986.
What is “General Hospital”?
According to the Guinness World Records, “General Hospital” (“GH”) boasts the title of being the world’s longest-running scripted drama series in production, as well as American’s longest-running soap opera in production. “GH” premiered in April 1963, and also boasts the titles of ABC’s longest-running entertainment program and Hollywood’s longest-running serial; it has also won more Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Drama Series than any other show to date.
“GH” was created by Frank and Doris Hursley, and began in an unnamed fictional city which would later become Port Charles, New York. The show’s most recognizable faces were Emily McLaughlin and John Beradino, who were there from the very beginning until their deaths in the 1990s. From 1964 to 2007, Rachel Ames was also a cast member and is to date ABC’s longest-serving actress in a soap opera.
Surprisingly, “GH” was not the network’s first soap opera: that merit goes to the short-lived “Road to Reality”, which lasted one year before being quietly shelved. Lackluster ratings prevented “GH”’s sister show, “The Young Marrieds” from lasting more than a few seasons, and the other spin-offs – “GH: Night Shift” and “Port Charles” were doomed to the same fate. On a more positive note, “GH” episodes have doubled in length, as fans can’t get enough of the iconic series.
Since the late 1970s, the Spencer and Quartermaine families have been the stars of “GH”. The show’s supercouple, Luke and Laura, managed to pull over 30 million viewers with their wedding episode, and celebrity guest stars such as Roseanne Barr, James Franco and Elizabeth Taylor have also been part of Port Charles’s history over the years.
The new millennium did little to slow down GH’s popularity: in September 2010, it became the oldest soap opera in America with the ending of “As the World Turns”, and a year and a half later it would be the only soap opera left on ABC. As of 2022, the show has aired over 15,000 episodes.
John Reilly portrayed the well-beloved Sean Donely on “GH” from 1984 to 1995, briefly returning to the role for a couple of episodes in 2008, and another two in 2013. As the actor passed away in January 2021, a heartwarming tribute episode based on Sean was written and aired a few months later, neatly tying up any loose ends the character had left behind.
Diehard fans of “GH” remember that the series was something of a spy and adventure show in the 1980s. When Luke Spencer was running from murder charges in 1984, he called on his best friend Robert Scorpio for help. Robert sent Luke to his old friend and former boss, Sean Donely, without knowing that Sean wanted an elusive Aztec treasure in Luke’s possession.
Sean, a retired spy, was bored with his placid existence, and welcomed the thrill of going up against Robert. After kidnapping Robert’s nearest and dearest, his plan almost fell apart when he thought that he’d killed Robert in the process. When Robert was revealed to be alive and came to arrest Sean, the latter was so pleased that he didn’t even fight back; the pair made amends, and Sean helped Robert defeat one of the show’s most notorious villains, Mr. Wu, in the Asian Quarter adventure. As a gesture of goodwill, Robert made Sean his daughter Robin Scorpio’s godfather.
Sean took his role as godfather seriously, and devoted himself to Robin’s wellbeing, while engaging in a whirlwind affair with Dr. Monica Quartermaine, but the relationship was opposed by Alan and Edward Quartermaine and didn’t go far.
Sean’s next major storyline came in 1987, when a terrorist group targeting spies put him on a hit list. As former head of the World Security Bureau (WBS), Sean was in grave danger and had to be helped by Robert, who made a dramatic return to Port Charles to protect those he cared about most.
Robert and Sean were assisted by Anna, Duke Lavery and Tiffany Hill, and travelled to Mt. Rushmore, where they caught the rogue terrorist group and its leader. A year later, Sean was struck by a mid-life crisis, enamored of the glamorous Dr. Greta Ingstrom. When Greta’s husband was back in the picture, Sean tried to work things out with his old flame Tiffany. Although the spy’s philandering ways broke Tiffany’s heart, she eventually forgave him, and their intimate wedding ceremony took place in the Quartermaine mansion.
After his wedding, Sean helped his friend Felicia Jones find her husband Frisco’s grave, after she was told that he’d been murdered. The next few years were tranquil for the Port Charles citizen until his arch-nemesis, Cesar Faison, joined the show in 1990. Flashbacks revealed that Cesar and Sean had conspired to break Robert and Anna’s marriage apart; at the time, Sean was head of the WSB and Cesar was the leader of a rival spy agency. The troublesome duo was united by their common goal of breaking the Scorpios apart, because Sean didn’t want to lose two of his best agents.
Although Robert and Anna discovered the truth, Sean helped his friends defeat Cesar before the latter could force Anna to marry him. In 1991, Cesar poisoned Sean’s wife Tiffany in an heinous act of revenge, leaving her comatose and mysteriously ill. As the possessor of the only cure, Cesar manipulated Sean to do his bidding; Sean himself was unaware that Cesar had caused his wife’s illness. Once he found out, he joined forces with Robert and Anna once again to bring the nefarious agency leader down.
In 1992, Sean served as acting Police Commissioner when Robert left town to pursue Cesar. When Robert and Anna were presumed dead while trying to stop Cesar, Sean assumed the position of permanent PCPD Commissioner and comforted his heartbroken god daughter Robin. 1993 brought yet more problems, as Sean’s nemesis Luke returned to town, and made his life a living hell; Sean’s marriage also began splitting at the seams when his wife wished to adopt her deceased sister’s son, Lucas, who was in the custody of Bobbie Spencer and Dr. Tony Jones.
The adoption dilemma led to the downfall of Sean and Tiffany’s marriage. He turned to the beautiful lawyer Jessica Holmes for comfort, and ironically, Tiffany forgot about adopting her nephew when she discovered she was pregnant. In a heart-wrenching plot twist, the stress of hearing Jessica tell Sean about her own pregnancy made Tiffany miscarry. Later on, Jessica admitted to Sean that she’d lied, and had never been pregnant.
I remember feeling quite bitter that #GH dumped these two delightful characters at the time. John Reilly (Sean Donely) and Sharon Wyatt (Tiffany Hill) could do anything, comedy, drama or high adventure. Together they had wild chemistry any soap would kill for. pic.twitter.com/edqM18LCMX
— Soap Dude 2 (@Soap_Dude2) May 21, 2021
The love triangle became even more complicated when Jessica really did become pregnant right when Sean and Tiffany began working on their marriage. When Jessica threatened to tell Tiffany, Sean returned the threat. When the lawyer was later found dead, Sean confessed to the murder in order to protect his wife, who he thought was the culprit. Later on, Ryan Chamberlain was proven to be the real murderer, and Sean and Tiffany’s reputations were restored.
In 1994, Sean and Luke were caught in a shoot-out with the notorious mobster Frank Smith. Frank shot Sean, but was killed by Luke before he could finish him off. If that wasn’t bad enough, Sean was accidentally shot by Luke in the same year, and around the same time, Tiffany announced her pregnancy to family and friends, while it was recommended that Sean be transferred to a treatment facility in Boston, Massachusetts. The couple weighed their options, and decided to leave town and start a new life.
In 2019, it was revealed that Sean had dementia, which he passed away from two years later. Prior to his death, he survived being pinned by a fallen crate, a head injury which resulted from a car accident, and three to four potentially deadly gunshot wounds. Shortly before leaving Port Charles in the 1990s, he and his wife were also tied up by Frank Smith’s men, and left in an alligator-infested swamp, so it’s a miracle that Sean’s character lasted as long as it did.
John Henry Matthew Reilly – not to be confused with the actor John C. Reilly – was born in May 1934 in Chicago, Illinois. He was a relatively late bloomer in the acting industry, making his first appearance on screens in the mid-1960s, with guest starring roles in “Gunsmoke”, “Apple’s Way”, and “Death Valley Days”.
With almost a decade of acting experience under his belt, John replaced John Colenback in “As the World Turns”, stepping into his role as Dr. Dan Stewart. He left the show in September 1976 after two and a half years, and was replaced by John Colenback. In 1977 and ‘78, he made a couple of guest appearances in “The Bionic Woman” and was seen in “Secrets of Three Hungry Wives” and “Lassie: A New Beginning”, two moderately successful TV movies. Some of the thespian’s feature film work includes roles in “Gorp” and “The Main Event”.
John’s first recurring role came with “Dallas”, a nighttime soap opera. In 1984, he was cast as Sean Donely in “GH”, but bowed out after ten years, opting not to renew his contract and receiving a handsome payout from Wendy Riche, the executive producer at the time. In February 1995, Sean’s character was written out of the show. For the rest of the 1990s, he sporadically played Del Douglas in “Sunset Beach”.
Other minor roles include a stint as Kelly Taylor’s father Bill in episodes of “Beverly Hills, 90210”. Bill’s character growth was stunted when he was written out of the show after being arrested and sent to jail. In January 2005, John replaced David Bailey as Alistair Crane in “Passions”, an NBC soap opera – David Bailey had died three months prior in a tragic pool accident. Unfortunately, budget cuts led to John being dropped from the show in July 2006. He returned as a recurring character a year later, but Alistair Crane was killed off in May 2008.
John briefly returned to the “GH” franchise for two episodes in October 2008 and another two episodes in August 2013. He later retired quietly and passed away in January 2021 of a heart attack; his wife Liz, five daughters and two grandchildren were understandably devastated. Tributes poured in from every corner of the world, mostly from “GH” fans who fondly remembered Sean Donely.
Generally, John is regarded as a great soap opera actor who was unable to fully tap into his potential, mostly as a consequence of budget cuts or redundant storylines. In 1986, he was nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role in a Daytime Serial at the Soap Opera Digest Awards for his work on “GH”.
John’s memorable on-screen wife, Tiffany Donely, was played by Sharon Wyatt from 1981 to 1983, and 1986 to 1994, briefly returning to “GH” in 2008 and 2021. Tiffany was introduced to the show when Luke and Robert travelled to Greece in an outlandish storyline, that saw them stop Mikkos Cassadine from freezing the world.
Tiffany, a gorgeous B-movie actress, was romantically involved with Mikkos’ brother Victor. Nevertheless, she helped Luke and Robert break into Mikkos’ command center; in the process, they destroyed the weather machine and killed the criminal mastermind. The blue-eyed blonde decided to leave Greece and make a new life for herself in Port Charles; she was also a guest at Luke and Laura’s wedding and would form a close friendship with Laura and be her daughter Lulu’s godmother.
Before meeting Sean and falling in love with him, Tiffany was briefly involved with Robert, but things didn’t work out. After a couple of months in Port Charles, she was pursued by Dr. Noah Drake, who unceremoniously left her when his former flame Bobbie Spencer returned to town. Tiffany was caught up in a toxic love triangle when Noah tried to get back into her good books, after his relationship with Bobbie failed yet again.
Luckily, Tiffany realized she was making a big mistake by becoming involved with an emotionally unstable man, and broke things off with Noah, which led to him leaving town. Following the presumed murder of Alan Quartermaine, Tiffany began working for the family; it was around this time that Sean began pursuing her just before being arrested for murder. Luckily, Alan’s father Edgar pulled strings and had Sean’s murder charges dropped, allowing his and Tiffany’s relationship to flourish.
Tiffany also worked as a TV executive and reporter. She was arrested for drink driving on various occasions, and became physical with other characters in the show, such as Alexandria Quartermaine and Jackie Templeton. Some of her most dramatic storylines saw her hospitalized after drinking poisoned milk, go into respiratory failure when given experimental drugs, and attempt suicide by overdosing on pills. It’s undeniable that the constant plot twists in Tiffany’s life made her one of the most memorable characters in the “GH” franchise.