The clinically common mutant opsin P23H, associated with autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa, yields low levels of rhodopsin when retinal is added following induction of the protein in stably transfected HEK-293 cells. We previously showed that P23H rhodopsin levels could be increased by providing a 7-membered ring, locked analog of 11-cis-retinal during expression of P23H opsin in vivo. Here we demonstrate that the mutant opsin is effectively rescued by 9- or 11-cis-retinal, the native chromophore. When retinal was added during expression, P23H rhodopsin levels were 5-fold (9-cis) and 6-fold (11-cis) higher than when retinal was added after opsin was expressed and cells were harvested. Levels of P23H opsin were increased ∼3.5-fold with both compounds, but wild-type protein levels were only slightly increased. Addition of retinal during induction promoted the Golgi-specific glycosylation of P23H opsin and transport of the protein to the cell surface. P23H rhodopsins containing 9- or 11-cis-retinal had blue-shifted absorption maxima and altered photo-bleaching properties compared with the corresponding wild-type proteins. Significantly, P23H rhodopsins were more thermally unstable than the wild-type proteins and more rapidly bleached by hydroxylamine in the dark. We suggest that P23H opsin is similarly unstable and that retinal binds and stabilizes the protein early in its biogenesis to promote its cellular folding and trafficking. The implications of this study for treating retinitis pigmentosa and other protein conformational disorders are discussed.