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'Days of Our Lives' Actor Macdonald Carey, 81, Dies : Show business: His long career included stage, screen, radio and TV roles. He also wrote poetry.

March 22, 1994|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Macdonald Carey, the tall veteran actor of stage, screen, radio and television best known in recent years as the patriarchal Dr. Tom Horton on the daytime soap opera "Days of Our Lives," died Monday. He was 81.

Carey, who had undergone surgery for lung cancer in 1991, died of the disease in his Beverly Hills home.

He had continued working on the television series until two months ago. A spokeswoman said writers will have Carey's character die in the program. In tribute, the NBC network plans to show Carey's portrait after Wednesday's episode and then fade to black.

The multifaceted Carey overcame alcoholism, a struggle he chronicled in his 1991 autobiography, "The Days of My Life." He also published three volumes of poetry and was invited to teach poetry by the University of South Carolina, which awarded him an honorary doctorate in fine arts.

"I want to be remembered for what I am--a poet/actor," Carey told The Times in 1988. "I'd like to be the best I can at both of them."

Carey said he thought his first book of poetry, "A Day in the Life," was published "mostly because I was Macdonald Carey." The second, "That Further Hill," he said, was "a vanity book, to be sure, but I did it because by then I thought I was a good poet."

"I like to think that this time," he said on publication of "Beyond That Further Hill," his third volume, "it's because I am a good poet."

A Times reviewer greeted the first book in 1982 with the appraisal: "He writes honestly, without avoiding his vulnerabilities--admirable in an age that honors image more than substance."

Although Carey frequently wrote about loneliness, he seemed to enjoy life even after his alcoholism cost him his three-decade marriage to actress Betty Heckscher.

"The (acting) profession teaches you a lot of bad things, but it also teaches you something of great value: 'Make it fresh every day.' I try to live that way--singing, dancing, acting, writing," he said when he was well into his 70s. "And you know, right now is the most beautiful time of my life. The best time I ever had."

When "Days of Our Lives" debuted on Nov. 8, 1965, Carey was the central figure. He also intoned, in his familiar, resonant voice, the dramatic opening line which was to echo over three decades: "Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives."

Twitted by critics for moving into soap operas after a distinguished career on Broadway, 60 films and classic radio and television dramas such as "Playhouse 90," the matter-of-fact Carey said in 1966: "There's not enough work, not enough movies being made today to keep all the actors busy. . . . For an actor, this kind of show is great. This is actually radio come alive again. . . . I really love it."

Carey's role as the perennial nice guy with a devoted wife and five children earned him Emmy awards for best actor in a daytime drama in 1974 and 1975 and six Soap Opera Awards from viewers.

Macdonald Carey was born and raised in Sioux City, Iowa, across the street from the twins who grew up to be Ann Landers and Abigail van Buren. He began his education at Philip Exeter and Dartmouth. But when the Depression struck, he got a brief note from his parents: "Come home."

Economically persuaded, Carey earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Iowa and pursued a master's in speech. He left to join a regional Shakespearean theater company, but the company folded, stranding him in Chicago.

Carey went to work for NBC Radio there in 1937, and soon moved to New York for the network. He followed Don Ameche in radio's "First Nighter," and went on to "John's Other Wife," "Stella Dallas" and "Just Plain Bill."

On Broadway, Carey made an inauspicious debut in "Mamba's Daughters." But he went on to star with Gertrude Lawrence in her "Lady in the Dark" and opposite Kitty Carlisle in "Anniversary Waltz."

The stage work won him a contract with Paramount for B movies, and his self-description as "strictly a nonentity in pictures." A notable exception was Alfred Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt" in 1943, in which Carey starred with Joseph Cotten and Hume Cronyn.

Carey served in the Marines for three years during World War II and returned to generally better roles--"Suddenly It's Spring" with Paulette Goddard in 1947, "Dream Girl" with Betty Hutton in 1948, and "Streets of Laredo" with William Holden and "The Great Gatsby" with Alan Ladd, both in 1949.

By the mid-1950s, Carey was concentrating on television, starring in such early drama series as "Playhouse 90," "U.S. Steel Hour" and "Alcoa Playhouse." As television matured, he starred in the 1956 series "Dr. Christian" and the 1959 series "Lock Up," and won such roles as Squire James in the popular mini-series "Roots."

In his later years, Carey was active in the Roman Catholic Church and became a knight of the Holy Sepulchre and knight of Malta.

In honor of his support of mental health services, the East Valley Mental Health Center in North Hollywood was named for him last year.

Carey is survived by his six children, Lynn, Lisa, Steve, Teresa, Mac Jr. and Paul, and six grandchildren.

The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Macdonald Carey East Valley Mental Health Center, 11631 Victory Blvd., North Hollywood.

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