In a 1978 interview with Barbara Walters, Hawkeye actor Alan Alda shared that thanks to “MAS*H,” on which he played a surgeon, his friends sometimes presumed he had medical expertise.
“Do people come up and ask you medical questions?” Walters asked. “And think that you’re really a surgeon?”
“Sometimes they expect me—I have a friend whose husband got sick and thought that she should call me because I was the first one she thought of,” Alda confessed. “But I really don’t like to do medical things. You know, I don’t really know anything about it.”
‘M*A*S*H’ Star Alan Alda Is No Stranger to Medical Science
But Alda is no stranger to medicine. He used to host the PBS program “Scientific American Frontiers,” a show in which he helped scientists ranging from medical researchers to Nobel laureates translate their work for the average citizen. He went on to found the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.
And in fact, Alda has experienced the benefits of medical science in his own life. He survived a bout with polio when he was just 7 years old. It was hard on him, but it was harder still on his parents, Alda said in an interview with AARP Magazine last year.
“I had a stuffy nose at the Warner’s movie theater — honking the whole evening,” he recalled. “I couldn’t clear my nose. When I got home, I threw up, and my legs were unsteady. The next day, I had a stiff neck. I couldn’t sit up in bed. My parents called the doctor. Went to the hospital, had a spinal tap. I was in the hospital for two weeks, but then I had about six months of a therapy devised by Elizabeth Kenny, the famous nurse from Australia. I had nearly scalding blankets wrapped around my limbs every hour.”
More recently, Alda was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. So he engages in various forms of exercise – walking, biking, boxing lessons from a specialist in Parkinson’s therapy. And he says that with treatment, his diagnosis is “not the end of the world.”
Alda Can Only Prescribe Laughter
With his scientific perspective, Alda is more concerned about the staying power of the human species than he is about his own outlook. He said scientists tell him the average species lasts about 2 million years. But he’s not sure humans will make it that long.
That’s pretty grim stuff coming from the man who played freewheeling, wisecracking Hawkeye on “M*A*S*H.” So what’s Alda’s prescription for a pandemic-clouded world in which the future of our species hangs in doubt?
“Laugh!” Alda advised. “Laughter is good. That’s one of the greatest benefits of this isolation. My wife and I are laughing more than we ever have.”
“We can’t take ourselves too seriously, even now,” he added. “A good friend emailed recently and said, ‘Alan, how are you doing? How’s everything?’ I wrote back and said, ‘I’m still alive. If that changes, I’ll let you know.’”