The Good Doctor

updated 04/04/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/04/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

LIKE SANDS THROUGH THE HOURGLASS, so are the days of our lives...." For 29 years the reassuring voice behind that earnest fragment of afternoon fatalism belonged to Macdonald Carey, a veteran screen star whose more than 50 films included Wake Island, Dream Girl and Shadow of a Doubt but who was better known to TV fans as Dr. Tom Horton, the wise and benevolent paterfamilias of NBC's Days of Our Lives. Last week that voice was stilled forever. On March 23, two days after Carey died at 81 of cancer at his home in Beverly Hills, Days closed with a 30-second silent tribute to the actor who had run Salem's University Hospital for nearly three decades on heart, homilies and gentle good humor.

Much like Carey himself, according to his castmates. "He was the peacemaker, the conciliator," says Frances Reid, who plays Carey's TV wife, Alice Horton. John Clarke, who has played his son Mickey since the show's pilot in 1965, adds, "Mac was closer to me than my own father was—you could talk to him about any-thing. He was the glue that kept the show together."

Alas, it took Carey, a recovering alcoholic, the better part of his life to pull himself together. He was one of three children of Charles Carey, a wealthy Sioux City, Iowa, banker, and his wife, Elizabeth, a violin teacher. Macdonald (his mother's maiden name) studied acting at the University of Iowa before working in radio in Chicago. He got his break in 1941 on Broadway in Lady in the Dark, then headed for Hollywood. Accompanying him was his bride, Betty Heckscher, an aspiring actress who gave up her career to raise their six children. By the mid-'60s, the movie roles had dwindled, and Carey gladly embraced "the security and money" of daytime TV.

But his drinking caught up with him, straining his marriage. In 1966 his second eldest daughter, Lisa, then 17, was diagnosed as schizophrenic. Her illness, Carey later would admit, "was just another excuse to get drunk." Betty, he said, "just wouldn't take it anymore," and the couple divorced three years later. In 1982, after a bad case of the shakes on the set, Carey joined Alcoholics Anonymous and, bolstered by Lois Kraines, his companion for the last 22 years, never took another drink. (Carey documented his problems in his 1991 autobiography, The Days of My Life, and also wrote three critically praised books of poetry.)

In September 1991, a malignant tumor on his left lung forced him to leave Days for two months. Carey thought he had fully recovered until the cancer reappeared last December, and he went into a rapid decline. His funeral, held in Beverly Hills five days after his death, was public. "The show had millions of family members across the country," says Days alumnus Bill Hayes, "and it's like we all lost a grandfather."

JOYCE WAGNER in Los Angeles

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