Macdonald Carey anniversary of death DAYS
Credit: NBC/The Everett Collection

A look back at the soap legend’s remarkable life and career.

On March 21, 1994, the landscape of Days of Our Lives was forever changed by the passing of Macdonald Carey, the one and only Dr. Tom Horton and the original patriarch on NBC’s flagship soap opera. Carey died in Beverly Hills, California, just six days after his 81st birthday due to lung cancer.

Humble Beginnings

Born Edward Macdonald Carey, his father Charles was an investment counselor and his mother Elizabeth Macdonald is from whom he got his middle name and the one that would become his stage moniker. He was born and raised in Sioux City, Iowa, where he sang baritone in the school choirs. He graduated with a B.A. from the University of Iowa in 1936, and went on to earn his Masters in drama from the same school.

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He married Elizabeth Crosby Heckscher in 1941, and the couple had 6 children before divorcing in 1969. The two met while he was working in radio and she was attending drama school in New York.

From Radio and Stage to Screen

One of Carey’s earliest roles was on Broadway in Lady in the Dark opposite Gertrude Lawrence, Danny Kaye and Victor Mature. His performance caught the eye of Paramount, who were so impressed that they bought the rights to the musical and signed Carey to a seven-year contract. A quote from his obituary in 1994 stated, “1941 was probably the greatest year of my life. I got my first big hit with Lady in the Dark, I got married and I signed with Paramount Pictures. I only wish I could remember it all better.” The unspoken reason for his lack of remembrance was due to the fact that he battled alcoholism most of his life, eventually joining Alcoholics Anonymous in 1982.

In the early forties, Carey continued to work steadily on radio, playing Dick Grosvenor on the soap opera Stella Dallas and Ridgeway Tearle in John’s Other Wife. The actor made his film debuts in Star Spangled Rhythm, Take a Letter, Darling, and his first starring role in Dr. Broadway, all in 1942. When Paramount finally decided to turn Lady in the Dark into a film, Carey was unavailable because he enlisted in the marines during World War II. Ray Milland was cast in his role opposite Ginger Rogers.

Macdonald Carey and Betty Grable

After serving, Carey returned to Paramount in 1947, and they quickly put him back to work in films such as The Great Gatsby and Streets of Laredo in 1949, and 1951’s Meet Me After the Show with Betty Grable (pictured). Between the 1940s and the 1960s, he appeared mostly in second-features, called B pictures, and quickly earned the title of The King of the Bs, with Lucille Ball being the Queen of Bs at the time.

Transitioning to Television

Macdonald Carey Miracle on 34th Street

Carey eventually made his way to television and even appeared on The 20th Century-Fox Hour’s syndicated show which recreated films in television format. He took on the role of lawyer Fred Gaily who famously defends Santa Claus in their version of The Miracle on 34th Street in 1955.

Before landing his most notable role on Days of Our Lives, the talented actor played Dr. Mark Christian in Dr. Christian from 1956 until 1957. The show was based on a character created in the late 1930s by actor Jean Hersholt on radio and in films. He then moved on to play crusading Herb Maris in the 1950s series Lock-Up between 1959 and 1961.

Like Sands Through the Hourglass

On November 8, 1965, Carey debuted as Dr. Tom Horton on Days of Our Lives. In a November 1990 interview with The Los Angeles Times, the patriarch of the show bluntly revealed that he took the part because, “I couldn’t get a movie at the time”.  He remained with the show until his death in 1994. The role earned him two Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Daytime Drama in 1974 and 1975.

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Even while taping the soap, Carey actively appeared on other television shows. He often sought roles that were in stark contrast to good-natured Dr. Tom Horton, including ones on Bewitched, Police Story, Fantasy Island, and Murder She Wrote to name a few. He can be seen in several television miniseries, such as RootsThe Rebels, and Top of the Hill. Never one to shy away from work, Carey also continued taking roles in films through the 1980s and can be seen in American Gigalo, Access Code, and It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive. Yes, Dr. Tom Horton was once in a horror movie!

Macdonald Carey and Days Cast

However, it’s as Tom Horton on Days of Our Lives where most people know the actor from. Carey, along with Frances Reid who played his wife Alice Horton, and John Clarke who played his son Mickey Horton, were the longest-running originals from the pilot episode to remain on the serial drama. Aside from being the beloved patriarch of Salem’s first family the Hortons, Tom was also chief of staff at Salem University Hospital, where much of the initial drama of the show took place.

Tom Horton at Hospital NBC Days

In 1991 Carey penned the autobiography The Days of My Life detailing his lengthy career, which includes over one hundred credits. As for his work on the soap opera, a genre sometimes slighted by others in Hollywood, he said, “I’m an actor who likes to work and what’s the difference whether it’s in the daytime or at night.”

Carey’s Tragic Death

Carey was a longtime pipe smoker, and he was often seen smoking in some of the early episodes of Days of Our Lives. In September of 1991, his doctor ordered him to stop smoking, and the actor took time away from the show in order to have a cancerous tumor removed from one of his lungs. He returned in November of that year, but would sadly pass away in 1994 as a result of lung cancer due to years of smoking.

It was months after the actor’s death before his character’s passing was addressed on screen, and many remember the scene like it was just yesterday. His character Tom had been written out as traveling for a medical conference. When he returned home, viewers witnessed a stand-in enter the famous Horton house, place his belongings down, and walk upstairs to take a nap. Later his wife Alice found him peacefully having died in his sleep, and had to break the news to Mickey and Maggie.

The character’s funeral aired on June 29, 1994, bringing back many former cast members including Marie Cheatham as Tom’s daughter Marie. Bill Hayes, who plays Doug, sang “Danny Boy” at the funeral, which was one of the actor’s favorite songs. The episode featured many long-time cast members sharing their memories of Carey, and the entire cast sang “Amazing Grace” at the conclusion of the funeral.




A Lasting Legacy

Even to this day, Carey’s legacy can be felt in the soap opera. Every Christmas the show still honors the traditions started by Tom and Alice by hanging ornaments with all the Horton family member’s names lovingly painted on them on the Christmas tree. Horton Square, in the center of bustling Salem, is also named in honor of Tom and Alice.

Carey can also still be heard in the voice-over at the beginning of the show famously saying, “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the Days of Our Lives,” a phrase that has entered pop culture. After his death in 1994, out of respect for his family, the show dropped the second half on the introduction, “This is Macdonald Carey, and these are the Days of Our Lives.” In 1975 when the show moved to an hour-long format, Carey could be heard during the midpoint announcing, “We will return for the second half of Days of Our Lives in just a moment.” That bit was dropped years ago.

There is no denying the mark Macdonald Carey has left on Days of Our Lives. For his contribution to television and film, Carey earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which can be visited at 6536 Hollywood Boulevard.

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