Last week, Steve Blackwood of “Days of Our Lives” was caught up in a four-car accident on Vine Street in Hollywood and walked away without serious injury.
The next day, Blackwood’s character, Bart Beiderbecke, was far less lucky: In baroque soap-opera fashion, the bumbling henchman for the wayward DiMera family was killed in a sword fight. His demise ended Blackwood’s nearly 10-year run on the NBC series.
“There wasn’t a dry eye on the set,” Blackwood said after wrapping the episode, scheduled to air Aug. 3. “But there was a lot of dried blood on my shirt. I spent the day with a half-sword sticking out.”
He left with the satisfaction of having died a good on-screen death and with farewell hugs from star Deidre Hall and other cast members.
Back as Bart — briefly
But it wasn’t what Blackwood expected when he rejoined the show three months ago, after about 18 months away. His absence coincided with a stretch in which “Days of Our Lives” downplayed the long-running DiMera-Brady clan rivalry.
Blackwood was glad to return as Bart. The actor, who admires comedic actors including Cary Grant and Dick Van Dyke, had enjoyed injecting a touch of humor into the usually straight-faced world of daytime TV. He’d made the supporting role his own.
Even Bart’s last name, a nod to the great jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, was due to Blackwood. The writers bestowed it after hearing the actor — a singer and composer who’s put out several CDs — scat singing on the set.
The steady paycheck also was something any actor appreciates, especially one who’s a family man (the Detroit-born Blackwood and wife Karen, an artist, have a daughter, Nicole) with a mortgage.
‘You're gonna be killed off’
About a month ago, he casually asked a series producer what was ahead for Bart. The answer was a stunner.
“He said, ‘Steve, I gotta tell you, you’re gonna be killed off. It’s gonna be exciting,’ ” Blackwood recounted. But he wasn’t excited; he felt a chill, not a thrill.
The actor thought back to the orchids and welcome-back note sent by executive producer Ken Corday (“A great guy,” Blackwood said fondly) when he rejoined “Days of Our Lives.”
“I didn’t realize the flowers were for my funeral,” he said wryly.
He’s keeping his exit in perspective as he moves on to other work, including a Sept. 28 opening at the Beverly Hills Playhouse in Neil Simon’s “Prisoner of Second Avenue” and club performances. He’s also eager for a shot at prime-time TV.
‘I’ve been this guy for 10 years’
But he would like those in decision-making positions to appreciate how difficult it is when an actor’s longtime role is abruptly yanked away.
“That’s what I hope that not only this show but other shows remember: We as actors have an attachment to the characters ... When they’re killed, part of us dies, too.”
He understands that producers don’t owe him anything, he said. Then he pauses, weighing his words: “Maybe I want to blow up a cliche. ... People don’t owe each other anything, but common respect is owed. I love those guys, but we could all use work on our people skills. Communication is key.”
(Series producers and the network declined comment.)
Death of ‘Days’ not far off?
Add Blackwood’s character to a growing number of ill-fated TV inhabitants, including a parade of “Lost” islanders and, spectacularly, Christopher and Bobby on HBO’s “The Sopranos” and police Detective Curtis Lemansky on FX’s “The Shield.”
If the producers knew Bart was destined to die, telling Blackwood when they hired him back would have allowed him to schedule auditions and club dates. So why didn’t they fill him in?
“A major possibility might be negotiations, because if myself and my agent knew it was just going to be a three-month arc we would have negotiated differently,” he said, adding, “We did renegotiate in the middle of this and they were very kind.”
It’s possible the venerable show, which debuted in 1965 and like other daytime serials has slipped in popularity, won’t long survive him. NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Zucker has said that “Days of Our Lives” is unlikely to continue on the network past 2009.
As for Blackwood, rumors of his death have been circulating online. Fans railed against the loss, some offering to launch a “Bring Back Bart” campaign.
“Many of them say, ‘Don’t worry about it. Stefano DiMera (Joseph Mascolo) rises like a phoenix. He’s been dead nine times and come back,’ ” Blackwood said.
So might Bart return?
“It’s possible,” Blackwood said. “But Steve Blackwood the actor, the person, could have more lives than this. I’m hoping that we go on from here.”