M*A*S*H star McLean Stevenson made his character Henry Blake so likable and believable that when Blake died on screen, the world felt it like an actual death and mourned him just the same.
Blake joined the surgeons in the classic TV pilot and stuck around until 1975, three years before the story concluded. But for his exit, Blake wasn’t fortunate enough to go home to his family. Instead, he tragically and unexpectedly died in the episode titled Abyssinia, Henry.
When Henry Blake met his end, fans were not only shocked but also angry that the producers would kill off such a pivotal cast member. As a Chicago TV critic wrote, “Col. Henry Blake died… and a lot of Americans who knew and loved him are angered, disappointed and grief-stricken.” And he was not wrong.
According to MeTV, tuning into the wartime dramedy and missing Blake got people so riled up that they began to write and call the show by the thousands. And they even demanded that Henry Blake return to his post. But the series killed him off, so there was nothing it could do.
McLean Stevenson Left ‘M*A*S*H’ to Star in His Own Series
However, another critic made a point of addressing the situation with a different perspective. In an opinion piece in the Akron Beacon Journal, they explained that Henry Blake didn’t actually die. The character had just enmeshed itself into McLean Stevenson. And the reason that the actor left M*A*S*H was to lead his own show and give audiences more of the sweet and hilarious personality that made fans mourn him in the first place.
“It was a gradual thing, and you may not have noticed,” the critic wrote. “But Henry Blake disappeared. He was absorbed by McLean Stevenson. Poor Henry became McLean Stevenson. So how can you mourn ‘enry when he’s alive and well with an NBC contract in his pocket and his own variety show coming up!”
In 1976, The McLean Stevenson Show hit the airwaves, with the network thinking it would be a major hit. But unfortunately, it was wrong.
The series followed Mac (Stevenson) and Peggy Ferguson (Barbara Stuart), two midwestern empty nesters who welcome their adult children back home after one graduates from college and the other goes through a divorce. The McLean Stevenson Show only ran for 12 episodes before NBC pulled it for lackluster ratings.
And the headlining star soon realized that his show never made it off the ground because they never fully grieved the M*A*S*H lieutenant.
“Everybody loved Henry Blake,” Stevenson once said, according to his Los Angeles Times obituary. “So, if you go and do The McLean Stevenson Show, nobody cares about McLean Stevenson.”