We’ve lost another familiar face from TV days gone by: David Ogden Stiers, who played Col. Charles Emerson Winchester III on “M*A*S*H,” died Saturday at home in Oregon at 75 of bladder cancer. He seldom took part in reunions because he didn’t want to be typecast, having done countless roles on stage and screen, and many voiceovers, including Disney animated films. He also shared his character’s love of classical music: he was associate conductor of the Newport, Oregon, Symphony and guest-conducted orchestras worldwide. His many colleagues recalled him fondly as a nice, funny, humble man and a consummate actor. Probably the best tribute was written by blogger and former “M*A*S*H” writer Ken Levine, who co-wrote the script that introduced Winchester. It’s filled with interesting behind-the-scenes trivia, if you’re one of the many fans of that series.
It’s sadly ironic that Stiers died the same week that Hollywood was marking the 35th anniversary of the final episode of “M*A*S*H,” “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” Young people who are used to niche “hits” that barely draw six viewers on Netflix would be stunned to learn that America practically came to a standstill to watch the 2-1/2-hour finale of a show that ran for 11 years, eight years longer than the actual Korean War it was set in.
In the days before cable and the Internet, the media used to bring us together instead of dividing us. In 1983, 125 million people watched the “M*A*S*H” finale (today’s #1 sitcom, “The Big Bang Theory,” averages about 19 million). Special TV hookups were arranged on Army bases so that troops in Korea could watch it live. It set all kinds of ratings records that still stand, and it remains second only to the 2010 Super Bowl as the most-watched TV broadcast of all time.
The show lives on in reruns, streaming and DVDs, and will likely run forever somewhere, because of the quality writing and performances; it was a period piece that never gets dated; and sadly, the subject of soldiers being wounded in war will probably never go away. If you’re a fan of “M*A*S*H,” the Hollywood Reporter just celebrated the finale’s anniversary with a lengthy, two-part feature interviewing virtually everyone still living who worked on it, in front of or behind the cameras. You’ll find it at the links below.