The Tragic Real-Life Stories Of These Days Of Our Lives Stars

This article contains mentions of addiction and suicide.

"Days of Our Lives" premiered all the way back in 1965, and it has outlasted the vast majority of its contemporaries. The soap opera is set in a town called Salem and follows the exploits of a number of (at this point) intermarried families, including the Hortons, the DiMeras, and the Bradys, and its characters have gone through just about every single interpersonal calamity you can imagine. There have been kidnappings, murders, serial killers, stalkers, more marriages than anyone can count, and even a number of demonic possessions! "This show is successful due to the fact that we tell stories about romance, adventure, and intrigue," showrunner Ken Corday told Soap Opera Network in 2021; Corday is the second-generation captain of the "Days" ship. "We've never gotten away from that formula that my dad knew when he created the show, and my mother followed for the next 15 years, and I have done as well."

Like their characters on the show, the cast of "Days" have gone through their own trials and tribulations off-screen. Like sands through the hourglass, so are the tragic real-life stories of these "Days of Our Lives" stars.

Alison Sweeney dieted for years

Alison Sweeney joined "Days of Our Lives" back in 1993 at the age of 16. She played Sami Brady, daughter of iconic character Marlena Evans, and she has appeared in an astounding 3505 episodes of the show and counting.

Throughout her time in Salem, Sweeney has been public about the difficult effects that fan and tabloid speculation about her weight have had on her mental health. In her 2004 memoir "All the Days of My Life (So Far)," Sweeney wrote that she lost roles due to her weight and her self-esteem began to suffer. "For many years, even though I was never obese, I tried fitting into a culture that reveres lean, angular bodies in women," she said. "I absolutely hated myself when I glared at the scale and it glared back at me with unwelcome news." The memoir describes numerous dieting attempts, including eating just fruit, only eating before 5pm, and ordering only nutritionist-prepared meals to be delivered at home. "Sounds insane, doesn't it?" Sweeney concluded. "It really was a sad and pathetic way to live, diet after diet, year after year."

Though she was aware of the damaging effects of diet culture, Sweeney hosted "The Biggest Loser" from 2007 to 2015. "Times change and situations change," she told People upon leaving the gig. "It wasn't an easy decision. It was just the right time for me to do something different." Instead, she returned to "Days" and the role that made her famous.

Arianne Zucker was on the Access Hollywood tape

Arianne Zucker joined the cast of "Days of Our Lives" in 1998 as the scheming Nicole, a character who has done everything from marrying for money to swapping babies and then some. Zucker told Soap Opera Digest, "Since I got my contract with 'Days,' I had been in acting class. I knew I really had to learn how to tap into that emotional jar of sadness so I could pull [the storyline where Nicole stole Sami's baby] off."

In 2016, Zucker found herself unexpectedly embroiled in a political scandal. The soap star appeared on the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape that saw then-candidate Donald Trump brag about "grabbing women by the p***y" while onboard a bus with Billy Bush; unbeknownst to Zucker, who had been tasked with meeting the fellow NBC stars on the backlot, Trump and Bush had been discussing women in crass terms moments before she joined. When the tape was leaked ahead of the 2016 Presidential election, Zucker found herself having to answer for it on CNN, the Today Show, and more.

"I refuse to let a situation such as this one take away my emotional power," Zucker wrote in an op-ed for CNN. "You are who you allow yourself to be and I did not and will not let this event or any of its aftermath affect who I am as a woman, mother, daughter, friend and partner to a great man."

Lisa Robin Kelly passed away in her sleep

Before Lisa Robin Kelly found fame as Laurie Forman on "That 70s Show," Eric's flirty, promiscuous older sister, she had a 26-episode stint as Jill Stevens on "Days of Our Lives." Kelly later disappeared from "That 70s Show" in 2003, though the show continued on for years without her; she explained to ABC News that she was struggling in her private life because she had experienced a miscarriage. "I had lost a baby; as a result of that I lost everything," Kelly said. "I was abusing alcohol, which I no longer do."

In 2012, the actor was arrested, reportedly for her involvement in a domestic violence incident with an ex-boyfriend. TMZ shared her mugshot, which went viral for its contrast with the star's blonde-bombshell image on "That 70s Show."

A year after she told ABC News that she was no longer misusing alcohol, the star died in an addiction treatment facility at the age of 43, mere days after she entered the facility. Kelly passed away in her sleep; subsequently, the police ruled out foul play, per ET. Her agent released a statement to the Los Angeles Times upon her passing, indicating that Kelly was recovering before she died. "She was hopeful and confident, looking forward to putting this part of her life behind her," her agent said. "Last night she lost the battle."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Drake Hogestyn lost his mother around Christmas

Drake Hogestyn moved into Salem as a recast of long-running character Roman Brady in 1986; after an actor shakeup, the role was rewritten and he was revealed to be a man named John Black in disguise. In the decades since, the actor has been on an impressive 4,086 episodes of the show and counting; John Black is now beloved as half of the iconic supercouple John and Marlena, pairing Hogestyn with fan favorite co-star Deidre Hall.

The 2016 holiday season was a tough time for celebrity death; fans lost George Michael, Carrie Fisher, and Debbie Reynolds in quick succession. The "Days" family also lost Joseph Mascolo, who played the iconic villain Stefano DiMera for decades on the show; when Mascolo died, Hogestyn wrote on Twitter, "The Phoenix will rise...R.I.P. Joe, we love you." In addition to the loss of one of his most recognizable co-stars, Hogestyn also suffered an even more personal loss that same season. "We've all lost some great ones lately... I just lost the greatest. Love you Mom," he tweeted on the day after Christmas, attaching a beautiful photo of his mother in what seems to be a long, flowing wedding dress.

Thankfully, two years later, Hogestyn got some good news during the holidays, marking the arrival of a grandson on Christmas Day.

Suzanne Rogers had a 'freaky accident'

Suzanne Rogers is the longest-running star on "Days of Our Lives," having played matriarch Maggie Horton since 1973. She's seen the character through numerous twists and turns, including a death at the hands of a serial killer — until, in true soap opera style, she turned up very much alive on an island with other victims. Production later held a 40th anniversary party for the actor, and she was emotional as her co-stars honored her work. "You almost think that they are talking about someone else because I am not really someone who pats myself on the back a lot so when someone else is doing it, it gets a little strange," she told TV Source. "I take it all with love."

Rogers confused fans when she vanished from "Days" in 2020. She told Soap Opera Digest she needed time off because of a "freaky accident." The soap star put her hair in curlers and then took a pill, but she choked; after calling 9-1-1, the next thing she knew, it was two weeks later. "I just know that when I did wake up, my curlers were no longer in my hair and most of my hair was in the curlers. So it was a scary kind of realization that I had. I had scabs all over my scalp and I was really kind of scared that I didn't know what was going on," she said.

Rogers needed rehab for several months, and she returned to the show in 2021.

John Aniston feuded with his daughter Jennifer

John Aniston has played one of Salem's most iconic patriarchs, Victor Kiriakis, since 1985. Though the character is usually a conniving master manipulator, Victor has at times tried to reform himself and act for good instead of evil. Of course, it rarely sticks. Aniston told the Television Academy, "The thing is, being too goody-two-shoes on a soap opera is no good."

Victor frequently feuds with his many (many) children and grandchildren, and it seems that Aniston's life reflects his art; he was estranged from his famous daughter Jennifer for many years. Jennifer told Sandra Bullock for Interview Magazine that she grew up "in a household that was destabilized and felt unsafe, watching adults being unkind to each other, and witnessing certain things about human behavior that made me think: 'I don't want to do that.'"

John left the family when Jennifer was younger, and the two spoke only rarely, even as Jennifer skyrocketed to fame on "Friends." However, the COVID-19 pandemic brought them back together. A source told the Daily Mail, "Jennifer didn't speak to him for ages. But since the coronavirus crisis she has been on the phone almost every day. And not just brief conversations. It's like she has realized life is very short and she wants her relationship with John to be the best it can be." 

Deidre Hall's fertility journey

On "Days of Our Lives," Deidre Hall has played Dr. Marlena Evans, a psychiatrist, since 1976. Marlena has been both mind-controlled into thinking she was a serial killer as well as hunted by several actual serial killers, plus she experienced a well-publicized possession by Satan himself — twice! Marlena is also part of the iconic supercouple that consists of the doctor and her frequent husband John Black, though the character has also been married to four other men.

Off-screen, Hall has been married four times herself; some of her marriages ended in part because she encountered difficulty having children, a journey covered by the made-for-TV biopic "Never Say Never: The Deidre Hall Story," in which the soap star played herself. "Oh my gosh, I spent two years in vitro trying to get pregnant," she told Closer Weekly. "I tried very hard and finally my doctor said, 'You are out of the baby business.' So then we looked at surrogacy." She reflected that it ultimately didn't matter to her that the baby wasn't born in the traditional way, adding, "What it did teach me was, in the moment when that baby is placed in your arms, it doesn't matter how they got there." 

Though she and her husband Steve Sohmer subsequently had two children together via surrogacy, they divorced anyway in 2006. "My primary concern is for my children and their well-being," she said at the time (via SoapCentral).

Brenda Benet died by suicide

The history of "Days of Our Lives" is littered with iconic villains, but few were more villainous than Lee DuMonde, the conniving character played by Brenda Benet between 1979 and 1982. Lee was a gold digger who came between iconic supercouple Doug and Julie, according to SoapCentral; Lee was after the fortune left to Doug by his dead brother, and in the course of her evil plot to steal the money from Doug, Lee tried to have Julie killed, yet managed to paralyze herself instead — got all that?

Unfortunately, Benet's real life was far more tragic than her character's misdoings. She told the Los Angeles Times that she felt secluded from the cast, explaining, "I discovered that personality conflicts can be tremendous on a soap, so I stayed out of the off-screen social circle." She then suffered an unspeakable tragedy in 1981 when her son died of acute epiglottis, a rare disease that prevents young children from swallowing.

A year after her loss, Benet died by suicide, leaving the cast of "Days" in what the Los Angeles Times called "a state of shock." The newspaper quoted an unnamed co-star who said the actor had "an aura of constant sadness." Years later, fellow "Days" star Susan Seaforth Hayes told We Love Soaps, "The costumer knew she had lost 20lbs just prior ... He knew she was drinking and she was going downhill physically." Hayes' husband Bill added, "I wish we had known the state she was in. But ... she was very private."

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Lisa Rinna lost her mom

Lisa Rinna's career reached new heights when she joined the cast of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" in 2014, but the actor has been starring on-and-off on "Days of Our Lives" since 1992 as Billie Reed, a former makeup saleswoman who joins the Salem Police Department. In 2021, Rinna led the cast of "Days of Our Lives: Beyond Salem," a Peacock spinoff devoted to her character (now an ISA agent) trying to track down a priceless artifact. "There's a lot of wink-wink in this with bringing back past characters. I mean, it's the funniest thing that Billie is working for the ISA. There's a lot of tongue and cheek and I think the audience is in for a great ride," Rinna told Deadline.

Shortly after the miniseries aired, Rinna experienced a personal tragedy. Her mother Lois, who appeared on numerous episodes of her daughter's reality show — including one where Lisa described Lois narrowly escaping from a serial killer called The Trailside Killer (per The Daily Star) — passed away in November 2021 after a stroke. "I know how much you appreciate and LOVE Lois so I need to tell you that she has had a stroke, I am with her now," Lisa shared on Instagram. "So lets celebrate her and send her so much love while she transitions."

Sal Stowers struggles with self-esteem

Sal Stowers has played police officer Lani Price on "Days of Our Lives" since 2015, including reprising the character on Peacock's spinoff miniseries, "Days of Our Lives: Beyond Salem." Recently, her character learned that the man she always considered a father, Abe, wasn't actually her father. Stowers says she was devastated by the revelation. In an interview on the Days of Our Lives App (via Soaps) with James Reynolds, the man who plays Abe, Stowers said, "Honestly, I was kinda pissed off. I was not happy to find out that you weren't Lani's real father. I have such an emotional connection to you and it just made me really sad."

A few months later, the actor shared on Instagram that she struggles with self-esteem issues. "I am extremely hard on myself and I can sometimes be my own mental punching bag," she wrote, adding that it was difficult for her to admit but that she wanted to be open with her fans. "The good thing is that I am aware of it and working everyday to give myself grace, self compassion and love like I have never done before," she added, inviting her fans to suggest ways to cheer themselves up in the comments. One fan thanked the actor for her openness, commenting, "I love your transparency. So many paint this picture of a perfect life on social media by only sharing the good and it sometimes makes folks like myself think we're crazy."

Macdonald Carey overcame alcoholism

Macdonald Carey was one of the original cast members on "Days of Our Lives," providing the iconic voiceover intro that tells viewers, "Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives." The actor, who also wrote poetry, described his approach to acting, according to the Los Angeles Times. "The profession teaches you a lot of bad things, but it also teaches you something of great value: 'Make it fresh every day,'" he professed.

Carey's daughter had schizophrenia; according to the actor's obituary in Variety, the actor told People Magazine that her struggle contributed in part to the actor's own experience with alcoholism. The ripple effects went out even further; Carey's alcoholism was in part to blame for his divorce, according to his memoir "The Days of My Life." 

Thankfully, Carey told the Orlando Sentinel in 1994 shortly before his death, that his daughter was doing much better; in addition, he revealed that he had been sober for 11 years. "She is reaching out. She wants to join society," he said, describing a program he was working on for Lifetime that would help teach people about schizophrenia. Though the project remained unfinished at the time of Carey's death, there is now a mental health treatment center in California that bears the soap star's name, and his voice still opens every episode of "Days of Our Lives."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Eileen Davidson lost numerous family members quickly

Another "Days of Our Lives" iconic villainess is the cunning Kristen DiMera; the adopted daughter of evil Stefano, the woman has been involved in murders, suicides, stolen children, and even a stint as a nun. The character has often been played by "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star Eileen Davidson, and Kristen even occasionally feuds with Billie Reed, a.k.a. "RHOBH" vet Lisa Rinna.

When Davidson first joined "Beverly Hills," she was still playing Kristen on-and-off; in her first year as a Real Housewife, Davidson suffered the tragic loss of a number of family members. First, her sister passed away; Davidson wrote on Twitter, "My beautiful sister lost her battle to cancer ... Love you Connie 4ever." Soon after, her niece Brooke died, according to the National Enquirer. Davidson remembered her years later on Instagram, writing, "We love and miss this sweet soul every day."

Then, she lost her father-in-law, actor Dick Van Patten, a few months later. "What a wonderful loving hilarious humble talented man. I will love him forever," Davidson tweeted in memory of the "Eight is Enough" patriarch. And finally, at the beginning of the following year, she lost her big brother. On her Housewives blog for Bravo, the soap star shared memories of her sibling, who was an air traffic controller and a martial artist. "In honor of my brother, I ask whoever reads this to take a minute to remind someone important to you that you love them," Davidson wrote.

Freddie Smith's DUI injured his girlfriend

Freddie Smith played Sonny Kiriakis between 2011 and 2020, the first openly-gay contract character on "Days of Our Lives." Sonny married Will Horton in 2014, making the pairing the first gay male married couple in American daytime soap history, according to TV Source Magazine. That same year, Smith, who is straight in real life, crashed his car in Ohio, according to the Star Beacon. Though he was treated and released from the hospital that same night, his passenger — his girlfriend Alyssa Tabit — was hospitalized in critical condition.

Shortly after the accident, Smith wrote on Facebook, "I can't thank you all enough for your on going support, thoughts, and prayers!!!! I really do have the best friends and family in the world!!!!" Thankfully, Tabit recovered, and the two later married.

Because Smith was indeed driving drunk, he was sentenced to two years' probation, according to The Wrap; the star reportedly pled guilty to a fourth degree felony of vehicular assault. Smith left "Days" in 2020, and the role was recast.

Greg Vaughan's friend passed away

Greg Vaughan has played Eric Brady on "Days of Our Lives" since 2012, taking over the part and bringing Eric back to Salem for the first time since Jensen Ackles of "Supernatural" fame gave up the role in 2000. Eric has had his ups and downs on the show — it is a soap opera, after all — and he is perhaps best known for his torrid love affair with Arianne Zucker's Nicole. Vaughan's performance garnered him a Daytime Emmy Award in 2018; during his acceptance speech, according to Digital Journal, he professed, "I am so proud and honored to be a part of this show."

Unfortunately, in 2020, the actor shared on Instagram that he had lost a good friend, Matthew Mogol, the husband of fitness star Tracy Anderson. Anderson's business reps told Page Six, "We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Matthew Mogol." In a since-deleted post on Instagram, Vaughan wrote (according to Soap Opera News), "I am grateful for all your wisdom, support, laughter and the adventures we've shared! Our friendship was always an open door I forever will cherish, with countless hours of conversation and our paths to fatherhood was inspiring!"