One of the all-time great villains of daytime television is gone, as actor Joseph Mascolo, best known for his long stint playing criminal mastermind Stefano DiMera on NBC’s Days of Our Lives died on Wednesday following a battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. He was 87.

“Joseph was a big ‘ol bear with a puppy dog heart,” said Patricia Schultz-Mascolo, Joseph’s wife of 11 years, in a statement. “I’m so blessed to have had these many years with him. I will miss him every day.”

“It is with great sorrow that we are sharing the news of the passing of our dear friend and beloved member of the Days of our Lives family, Joseph Mascolo,” said producer Ken Corday, son of Days co-creator Ted Corday. “The smile on Joe’s face is something we’d all come to find comfort in, and he will be sorely missed. His larger than life presence, kind heart, and unwavering positivity has impacted us all for decades, and will live on in the memories of his many fans. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this difficult time.”

Though best known for his iconic Days role, Mascolo had a long and varied career in entertainment going back to the 1950s. Born in West Hartford, Connecticut in 1929 to Italian immigrants, Mascolo’s first love was classical music. He attended the University of Miami on music scholarship, but decided early on that he wanted to study opera. Eventually embracing acting, he moved to New York city to study under Stella Adler, and while there supported himself as a concert clarinetist.

He began his acting career in theater off-Broadway, including an appearance in a production of Threepenny Opera, before making the jump to Broadway proper as an understudy to Neville Brand in Sidney Kingsley’s Night Life. He would continue to work regularly in theater for decades. He found himself in Los Angeles after appearing on Broadway with Charles Durning and Richard Dysart in the Pulitzer-winning That Championship Season, when he joined the play’s national tour.

In Los Angeles he ventured into film, making his screen debut in 1970’s Diary of a Mad Housewife. Among his many film roles are appearances in Jaws 2, Shaft’s Big Score, Sharky’s Machine, and the 1986 Burt Reynolds film Heat.

During this time he also worked regularly on television, with appearances on such shows as Where the Heart Is, From These Roots, All in the Family, The Eddie Capra Mysteries, Lou Grant, The Incredible Hulk, The Rockford Files, Kojak, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, and Hill Street Blues among others.

It was in 1982 that Mascolo joined Days of Our Lives as Stefano DiMera, a role created with him in mind by head writer Pat Falken-Smith. A mysterious European businessman who moves to Salem, he was gradually revealed to be at the center of various criminal enterprises, including organized crime, unethical business endeavors, and even terrorism. At the same time, he was depicted as a complex, devoted family man with numerous ties to the show’s main protagonists. An immediate favorite among viewers, he would play the role for a combined 26 years, making his last appearance in 2016.

Following a temporary departure from the show in 2001, Mascolo joined The Bold and the Beautiful in the role of Massimo Marone, staying with the role until 2006 when he returned to play DiMera on Days.

Mascolo has a street in Ocilla, Georgia named for him in honor of his efforts to build a group home for mentally and emotionally impaired citizens. He also was involved in fundraising for non-profit New Horizons, which provides guidance, counseling and careers for adults with developmental disabilities.

Mascolo is survived by his wife Patricia, his son Peter, his step-daughter Laura, his sister Marie and her husband Ronald LaVoie, along with five grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, one niece, one nephew, 3 great nieces, one great nephew and one great-great niece.