“MAS*H” fans mourned the deaths of the actors that played Henry Blake. Both actors passed away from heart attacks, a day apart.
Actor McLean Stevenson died on Feb. 15, 1996, and actor Robert Bowen died on Feb. 16, 1996. Both actors were best known for portraying Col. Henry Blake in separate adaptations of “MAS*H.” More bizarrely, both actors also had the same cause of death within 24 hours of each other. Bowen’s family withheld his death for a week to avoid confusion in the media regarding their deaths.
Bowen first played Blake in the 1970 film adaptation. Bowen played Blake as an absented-minded foil to Donald Sutherland”s Hawkeye. Outside of “MAS*H,” Bowen appeared in other films and was also a novelist. He wrote 11 novels during his lifetime including “Inga” and “The Silent Fifties.”
McLean Stevenson Played Henry Blake on TV
Meanwhile, McLean Stevenson played Henry Blake on the TV adaptation. This version of Blake had a more cordial relationship with Hawkeye, now played by Alan Alda. But similarly, Blake acted as a foil, often caving under the stresses of his position with Hawkeye bringing back.
“I represent on ‘MAS*H’ the authority figure who can’t cope and who caves in under pressure,” he said, according to the New York Times. “Alan Alda is the hero, the guy people want to be but know they aren’t. I’m the guy they really are.”
Stevenson enjoyed playing the character and saw a bit of himself in Blake. But after three seasons, Stevenson grew tired of appearing in an ensemble show. He wanted to be the star attraction, something he couldn’t accomplish with Alda in the spotlight. Stevenson chose to leave the TV series at the end of Season Three, resulting in the creators deciding to kill Blake off. Blake’s helicopter went down in the Sea of Japan in a moment that left both the characters and cast stunned.
Outside of “M*A*S*H,” Stevenson failed to garner the same range of appeal. He appeared on the short-lived “The McLean Stevenson Show” and “In the Beginning” afterward. Unfortunately for Stevenson, he never landed upon another hit series after leaving the show. Ultimately, Henry Blake ended up being one of his most iconic roles and what the actor is generally remembered for today.