Bill Hayes, longtime TV star of ‘Days of Our Lives,’ dies at 98

Bill Hayes, who played the character Doug Williams on the long-running daytime soap “Days of Our Lives” since 1970, has died. He was 98.

“It is with a heavy heart that we share the passing of our beloved Bill Hayes,” a representative for the Peacock series told The Times in a statement. “One of the longest running characters on ‘Days of our Lives,’ Bill originated the role of Doug Williams in 1970 and portrayed him continuously throughout his life. He and his wife, Susan Seaforth-Hayes, remained the foundation of the Williams-Horton family spanning more than 50 years.”

“I have known Bill for most of my life and he embodied the heart and soul of ‘Days of Our Lives,’ ” 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.”

Hayes died peacefully Friday morning surrounded by family, his representative Gregory Mayo told The Times. “Bill Hayes meant the world to me — he is simply the best that a person could ever hope to be. He was not only a client, but a trusted friend and mentor. Bill will indeed be missed.”

Born in Harvey, Ill., in 1925, William Foster Hayes III started his career with supporting stage and screen roles throughout the 1950s. He made his Broadway debut in 1953 in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Me and Juliet” and later performed in productions of “Bye Bye Birdie,” “She Loves Me,” “Brigadoon” and “Annie.” His popular version of the catchy song “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” written for the ABC series “Disneyland,” topped the Billboard charts in 1955.

“It was incredible,” he told Soap Opera Digest in 2017 of performing “Ballad” across the country at the time. “Everybody in the audience would know every word in the song. It’s just that good a song. Everybody in the country today still knows it. If I start singing, they’ll sing along with me. It was quite a magic ride. It just took off like a skyrocket.”

Upon ending his first marriage to Mary Hobbs, Hayes was looking for a job that required less travel so he could care for his five children. He joined NBC’s “Days of Our Lives” in 1970 as Doug Williams, a convicted con artist turned charismatic lounge singer. He was nominated for Daytime Emmy Awards in 1975 and 1976.

A man and a woman smile for the camera.

Bill Hayes and Susan Seaforth Hayes of “Days of Our Lives” in 2018.

(Paul Drinkwater / NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

Hayes and his wife, Susan Seaforth Hayes, were widely known as the first couple of daytime television, after meeting on set and sharing an on-screen kiss in 1970. They were then married in real life in 1974; their “Days” characters were married in 1976. They fell in love because, as Susan said in their 1976 Time cover story, “We started to do love scenes. That was just about the ball game.”

In 2018, both he and Susan received Lifetime Achievement Awards at the Daytime Emmys for their decades-long performances. They delivered a joint acceptance speech with a musical interlude, jokes about each other’s careers and gratitude for a loyal viewership.

“ ‘Days’ is a show about stories of the heart,” said Susan. “It’s about love stories and Billy and I are thrilled to think that our love story and some of our performances are considered worth remembering.”

“When we meet the fans all across the country, often their eyes will well up with tears at the memories, for our show is as cherished as a family album and we are part of their family,” added Hayes. “It’s been wonderful for us. It’s truly gratifying.”

“Let us continue giving our viewers the romance that they love so much plus something more,” he added. “Let us create dramas that make our audience not only laugh and cry, but think and feel and know that we care about what they’ve been going through in their own lives.”

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