Credit: ABC/Courtesy of the Everett Collection (3)

On February 6, 2009, we all wished that Philip Carey had had more than One Life to Live.

You’ve read this story before — or you think you have. “Beloved soap star dead — everybody sad.” Except that this story isn’t like any other that you’ve read, because it’s about an actor who was like no other: Philip Carey, who for more than a quarter of a century played the Buchanan clan’s cantankerous pa Asa on One Life to Live.

By the time the former Eugene Carey relocated to Llanview, he was already a movie star, having been fifth-billed in his big-screen debut, 1951’s Operation Pacific, with no less than John Wayne. In the years that followed, he worked with some of the greats of Hollywood’s Golden Age, from Joan Crawford (in 1952’s The Woman Is Dangerous) to Gary Cooper (in that same year’s Springfield Rifle), from Doris Day (in 1953’s Calamity Jane) to James Cagney (in 1955’s Mister Roberts).

CALAMITY JANE, from left: Philip Carey, Doris Day, Howard Keel, 1953

But he was always in the background.

Finally, after making a particularly memorable guest appearance in a 1971 episode of All in the Family (as a man’s man whose affinity for men shocked Archie Bunker), Carey made his daytime debut on Bright Promise on his way to the role that would put him permanently in the spotlight: One Life to Live’s Asa. The Texas oilman wasn’t just incorrigible, he was at time downright intolerable. However, the way that Carey played the womanizing rat bastard, you couldn’t just hate him, you had to love to hate him.

ALL IN THE FAMILY, Carroll O'Connor, Phil Carey, 'Judging Books By Covers', (Season 1, aired February 9, 1971), 1971-1979

Off screen, well… it was just love. As Robert S. Woods, who played his son Bo, said at the time of Carey’s passing, “He was like Pa to me. My own father passed away in 1975, and I met Philly in 1979. 

“I don’t know if I could love him more,” he added, “if he was my dad.”

ONE LIFE TO LIVE oltl clint asa bo abc ec

Alas, a lifetime of puffing away led Carey to be diagnosed with lung cancer in 2006. He left his iconic role a year later and succumbed to the disease at age 83, less than a week after the death of his other soap son, Clint Ritchie, who’d played Clint.

Sigh. Rather than dwell on what we lost when Carey died, perhaps we could remember what we had when he lived, by reviewing the below photo gallery, a collection of images from the entire ABC run of One Life to Live.