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In Appreciation: Bill Hayes

Bill Hayes, the actor and singer who with his real-life wife, Susan Seaforth Hayes, starred on NBC’s Days of Our Lives as the beloved first couple of daytime television, died Friday in Los Angeles, a rep from the show told The Hollywood Reporter. He was 98.

Before he was known as a soap opera legend, Hayes was a regular on Sid Caesar‘s famed live TV variety program Your Show of Shows, and in 1955 he had the No. 1 song in America, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.”

He also partnered in a nightclub act with future Brady Bunch star Florence Henderson; they were known as “The Singing Sweethearts” and sang about Oldsmobiles on TV commercials, many of them performed live.

The actors married on Oct. 12, 1974, and then their characters wed (for the first of three times!) on an episode that aired Oct. 1, 1976. They repeated their actual wedding vows for their inaugural TV ceremony.

“In 1974, Susan and I got married in my living room with 16 people,” Hayes once said. “In 1976, when Doug and Julie got married, we had 16 million people.”

Quite naturally, the televised nuptials came after Doug had married Julie’s mom (Patricia Barry), who would die a tragic death, and had a daughter with her (that would be Julie’s half-sister).

He and Seaforth Hayes made history when they became the only soap stars to grace the front of Time magazine. The cover line on that Jan. 12, 1976, edition: “Soap Operas: Sex and Suffering in the Afternoon.”

Doug and Julie “went on a cruise” and left the town of Salem as the actors departed Days of Our Lives following a dispute over storylines in 1984. They spent the next several decades on and off the show since then, with viewers always thrilled to see them return. The couple even made it to Peacock when the show shifted there in September 2022.

In a 2011 interview with TV Guide, Seaforth Hayes described her husband — 18 years her senior — as “a real lover of life, and he has taught me to have a broader horizon, which I think is probably the key to our still being deliriously happy to see each other 24 hours a day.”

They received a lifetime achievement award at the Daytime Emmys in April 2018.

“I have known Bill for most of my life, and he embodied the heart and soul of Days of Our Lives,” the show’s executive producer Ken Corday said in a statement. “Although we are grieving and will miss him, Bill’s indelible legacy will live on in our hearts and the stories we tell, both on and off the screen.”

One of three sons of a World Book Encyclopedia salesman and a homemaker, William Foster Hayes III was born on June 5, 1925, in Harvey, Illinois. He attended Thornton Township High School and played the violin and sang in the school band.

After enlisting and serving for two years in the Navy Air Corps, where he trained to become a fighter pilot, Hayes graduated from DePauw University, majoring in English and music, in 1947.

When his younger brother got a case of strep throat and was unable to try out for a role in the national touring production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel — fresh off its amazing Broadway run — Hayes jumped on a train to Chicago and auditioned in his place at the Shubert Theater. He won a job that paid $70 a week for about four months.

In summer 1949, while he was working toward a master’s degree at Northwestern, the fresh-faced Hayes landed another singing and acting gig with a vaudeville-style production, Funzapoppin, headed by the famed comedy team of Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson.

The duo was quickly hired to topline a live variety show that served as a 13-week summer replacement for Milton Berle’s wildly popular Texaco Star Theatre at NBC, and they brought Hayes with them.

That in turn led to a five-year stay as an original performer on NBC’s Your Show of Shows, where Hayes collaborated with the likes of Imogene Coca, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and singing partner Judy Johnson.

Around this time, Hayes also starred in another Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway musical, Me and Juliet, appearing with Ray Walston, Shirley Jones and Shirley MacLaine, and had a role as Margaret Dumont’s son in the comedy film Stop, You’re Killing Me (1952).

“The Ballad of Davy Crockett” was first heard on the premiere episode of ABC’s Disneyland in October 1954. Hayes recorded his version two months later, in one take, and it went on to sell more than 4 million copies. (Fess Parker and Tennessee Ernie Ford also released renditions that year.)

Hayes then spent the next chunk of his career performing on stages around the U.S., touring with the national production of Bye Bye Birdie for a year.

When his agents informed him about a job opening on Days of Our Lives, Hayes wasn’t exactly jumping for joy. “A soap actor is a bad actor, soap writing is bad writing, soap everything was bad,” he said in the wonderful documentary about his life, World by the Tail (2017). “I had something to learn about that.”

He joined the soap shortly after his 23-year marriage to Mary Hobbs had ended, and he had custody of three of their five children. Seaforth Hayes, meanwhile, was engaged to L.A. anchorman Hal Fishman.

“Bill’s house was like a zoo,” his wife recalled about an early encounter with Hayes’ family in a 1981 story for People magazine. “He didn’t have a nickel, and the kids were out of control, living on pizza. It was a spaced-out household. I thought he needed help.”

After he and Seaforth Hayes had their first scene on the show, Days of Our Lives head writer William Bell “saw something go between our eyes and said, ‘Whoa, I think I’ll write another scene for them,’” Hayes said in his documentary. “He wrote some wonderfully flirty scenes for us after a while.”

When Days of Our Lives star Macdonald Carey introduced them to each other, Seaforth said, “I tried not to drool because I had purchased his recordings,” she recalled in 2022. “I had seen him on Your Show of Shows, and I had seen him in the national tour of Bye Bye Birdie. And he was the most gorgeous thing, the sexiest thing, and then he turned out to be sooooo nice.”

They kissed for the first time (on the show and in real life) on July 23, 1970.

After the daytime serial expanded to one hour in 1975, Hayes was given extra time to sing as his character opened his own nightclub, Doug’s Place. He often performed “The Look of Love,” which was Doug and Julie’s theme.

In 2004, Doug was stabbed to death in a graveyard fight with the bonkers psychiatrist Marlena Evans (Deidre Hall), but no, he was alive, somehow turning up later on a tropical island.

Hayes also appeared in Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal (1963) and with Carol Burnett on a 1964 CBS adaptation of her Broadway hit, Once Upon a Mattress, and he guest-starred on such shows as The Interns, Matlock and Frasier.

For years, he and former Hogan’s Heroes and Days of Our Lives actor Robert Clary had lunch almost every Thursday. (Clary’s character, Robert LeClair, served as Doug and Julie’s best man at their first TV wedding.)

Hayes and his wife published a joint autobiography, Like Sands Through the Hourglass, in 2005; co-authored a book of historical fiction, Trumpet, in 2012; and launched a website, soapoperasecrets.com, in 2021.

In addition to Seaforth Hayes, survivors include their five children, 12 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren.