Burghoff and his character were known for many things, but having a clear and defined role wasn’t one of them. Despite being one of the most popular characters on the hit series, he just wasn’t like the rest of the M*A*S*H crew.
He was one of the only non-officers in M*A*S*H who had a significant role in the series.
Radar was funny, cuddled with a teddy bear and young compared to the wise Col. Potter (Harry Morgan) or Father Francis Mulcahy (William Christopher).
Radar found himself as the series progressed and became confident in his role among M*A*S*H doctors and officers as the company clerk.
In a 1973 interview with The San Bernardino County Sun, Burghoff said part of the reason for his success on the series was because of the strong connection people had with Radar in real life.
“It’s not enough to recite funny lines, to go through the motions,” Burghoff said. “You have to make contact. To me, that’s what acting is all about.”
Burghoff said he could feel the connection between Radar and his fans whenever he was out in public. He would often run into fans who would compliment him on his performance in the series and say how much the character meant to them.
He wanted to make people laugh and reach out and touch them. His courage, leadership, integrity and ability to be an inspiration to others made him an officer in our hearts at home.
“Any guy who’s been in the military relates,” Burghoff said. “Radar is the only non-officer in the group and when something needs to be done, he’s the one who usually does it. Most people relate to that because it’s like trying to deal with the ‘system’ — any system.”
Burghoff said he considered himself to be a pretty good teacher. His main goal was to offer a mirror for his students, the television viewers, in which they were able to see themselves in him.
After being a lead on Broadway’s You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (1967), he met director Robert Altman. Altman eventually selected Burghoff for M*A*S*H’s feature film in 1970. This later turned into a role in the M*A*S*H series.
He said it took him a long time to accept himself and said he had to seek an identity of his own in Hollywood. With years of practice as Radar, he was able to bring the character to a larger light despite being a non-officer.
“I used to be like so many kids,” Burghoff said. “I wore my hair long and dressed funny and tried to blame the ‘establishment’ for all the world’s ills. My own included. Then one day I realized I was the only one who could change my own situation.”
And like Radar, he found a purpose within the 4077th medical unit.