When people talk about the best-loved television shows in history, the seriocomic Korean War series “M*A*S*H” always works its way into the conversation. Based on Robert Altman’s Academy Award-winning film of the same name, “M*A*S*H” hit the small screen in 1972 and proceeded to dominate the primetime ratings for the next decade-plus (via The Washington Post), winning 14 Emmy Awards out of 109 nominations. One of these Emmy statues indeed went to Gary Burghoff, who portrays fan-favorite character Corporal Walter “Radar” O’Reilly for much of the series’ small-screen run.
Burghoff was the lone cast member from the Altman film to reprise his role for the show (via IMDb), and if you’ve seen his work in either, you know that no other actor could’ve played the part. His Emmy win was well-earned, and he likely should’ve taken home a couple more statues during his time in “M*A*S*H.” Still, it’s easy to forget that Burghoff’s tenure only lasted a little over seven seasons, with the actor leaving Hawkeye (Alan Alda) and the rest of the 4077th to carry on without him in Season 8. Here’s why Burghoff left “M*A*S*H.”
Burghoff had a couple of reasons to walk away from MASH
Gary Burghoff got a fitting sendoff from “M*A*S*H” via a two-part 1979 episode titled “Good-Bye Radar.” While the show soldiers on admirably in Radar’s absence, “M*A*S*H” is arguably never quite the same without him. As for why Burghoff left, frequent “M*A*S*H” director Charles S. Dubin claimed the actor felt he “wasn’t getting his proper dues” playing Radar, as he revealed during an interview with the Television Academy Foundation.
Dubin also claimed issues in Burghoff’s personal life may have contributed to his departure, stating, “He was having trouble with his wife at the time.” To this point, Dubin explained that the actor struggled to get through a particular scene in his farewell episode, claiming Burghoff, “broke into tears and I had to stop everything for 15 minutes and walk him around the backlot of Fox. In the script, he was talking about a future with [a character Radar had fallen in love with] … I think that was a large part of it.”
Burghoff himself never spoke much about his reasons for walking away from “M*A*S*H,” but he reportedly did confirm that the desire to spend more time with his family played a role, stating in a 2006 radio interview with Oakville, Ontario’s JOY 1250, “Family, to me, became the most important thing. I was not available as a father because of my work” (via ASSIST News Service). Cleary, the time commitment of being in a network series had been taking a toll on Burghoff’s personal life. As much as he is missed in the later seasons of “M*A*S*H,” one can hardly blame him for putting his family before his work.