Skip to content

Why Did Gary Burghoff Leave M*A*S*H?


  • Gary Burghoff left M*A*S*H to spend time with his family after feeling burned out from playing Radar.
  • Burghoff’s final episode in M*A*S*H, titled “Good Bye, Radar,” is considered one of the best in the series.
  • Despite leaving M*A*S*H, Burghoff returned to reprise his role as Radar in the spin-off series “After M*A*S*H” for two episodes.

M*A*S*H is one of the most iconic and critically acclaimed television shows. Airing from 1972 to 1983, it is a spin-off adaptation of the 1970 film M*A*S*H, which in turn was an adaptation of the 1968 novel MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors by author Richard Hooker. The series follows a team of doctors and support staff stationed at the “4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital” (M*A*S*H for short) in South Korea during the Korean War and, in a humorous turn of events, the series lasted three times longer than the actual Korean War.

The series featured a wide array of characters, including “Hawkeye” Pierce (Alan Alda), Margret “Hot Lips” Houlihan (Loreta Swit), Klinger (Jamie Farr), Father Mulcahy (William Christopher), Charles Emerson Winchester III (David Ogden Stiers) and many more fan-favorite characters. One of the most famous and beloved was Walter Eugine “Radar” O’Reilly, played by actor Gary Burghoff.

He is the company clerk of the outfit and is the right-hand man of both Colonel Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) and Colonel Potter (Harry Morgan). Burghoff was the only actor from the original M*A*S*H film to reprise his role on television. However, he was only with the series until Season 8, when he left in one of the best episodes of the series. Here is why Burghoff left M*A*S*H and the aftermath of his exit.


Release Date
September 17, 1972

Alan Alda , Mike Farrell , Loretta Swit , Jamie Farr , Harry Morgan , David Ogden Stiers


Burghoff Needed A Break From Radar and to Spend Time With His Family

Radar on MASH
20th Century Television

While M*A*S*H struggled in its first season, by its second season, it became one of the biggest programs in the United States and stayed there for the remainder of its run. The stars of the series became household names, and for Burghoff, his role as Radar was a fan favorite. He was nominated for six Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series and won in 1977. Each season averaged between 22 to 26 episodes at a time, meaning the actors were very busy. Having been with the character of Radar since the 1970 film and then for years on television, it was understandable that Burghoff was feeling burned out in the part.

Burghoff wanted to spend more time with his family. Burghoff had been married to Janet Gayle since 1971, between the M*A*S*H film and television series. They had one daughter, and there is a chance the long working hours took a toll on Burghoff’s marriage. He stopped appearing as a regular at the end of Season 7 in 1979, appearing as a guest for a few episodes in Season 8 before his final episode aired in October 1979. In between that time, Burghoff and Gayle were divorced. It is likely that Burghoff wanted to have more free time to spend with his daughter.

Burghoff’s Exit From the Show

Radar and his teddy bear with MASH
20th Century Television

Burghoff’s final episode of M*A*S*H, titled “Good Bye, Radar,” was a two-part installment. It was originally intended to be the season finale of Season 7 but moved to early in Season 8 during the November sweeps, a highly coveted measurement for Nielsen ratings. “Part One” aired on October 8, 1979, and “Part Two” aired the following week on October 15.

The first episode deals with Radar’s conflicting feelings about being discharged following his uncle’s death to care for his mother and his duties to the group that he now considers family. The second episode shows Radar finally leaving, and realizing that everyone will be alright without him. He has done his duty, and he leaves while everyone is performing surgery.


After M*A*S*H, Robert Altman Made the Saddest Western Ever

Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller ranks among the saddest and most depressing American westerns.

The two “Good Bye, Radar” episodes are considered some of the best episodes in the M*A*S*H series. Despite Radar leaving, his legacy would still live on the show. The most immediate impact of his departure was reworking the character of Klinger, who was promoted to the position of company clerk. This meant that the series dropped Klinger’s habit of wearing dresses as a way to be declared unfit for service and be discharged and moved him into having more responsibilities.

The penultimate episode of the series, “As Time Goes By,” sees the 4077 bury a time capsule to commemorate their time. One of the items buried is Radar’s teddy bear, which he left on Hawkeye’s bunk in his final episode to show how mature he had become. Hawkeye says the teddy bear being buried stands for the soldiers who came to Korea as boys and went home as men, much like Radar. Even in M*A*S*H‘s final days, Radar still loomed large.

Radar Returned

Radar from MASH
20th Century Television

Despite Burghoff leaving M*A*S*H, it would not be his last time as Radar. Following M*A*S*H‘s conclusion in February 1983, a spin-off series aired just seven months later. After M*A*S*H followed the post-war adventures of beloved characters Colonel Potter, Klinger, and Father Mulcahy as well as Soon-Lee Klinger (Rosalind Chao).

Burghoff reprised his role as Radar in Season 1 for two episodes, “Yours Truly, Max Klinger” on January 16, 1984, and “It Had to Be You” on January 23, 1984. The episode sees Radar worried that his fiancée may have cheated on him before their wedding and looking to his old M*A*S*H friends for help.


TV Shows That Are Better Than the Movies They’re Based On

TV shows have the luxury of using multiple episodes to build suspense, something that movies usually have to do in a compressed amount of time.

Burghoff’s appearance on After M*A*S*H was meant to serve as a setup for his own spin-off series, W*A*L*T*E*R, which would have shown Radar leave behind his old nickname to make a new life for himself after his marriage from After M*A*S*H ends with his wife leaving him on his honeymoon for his best friend.

Now, going by his real name, Walter, he becomes a police officer. A pilot produced by CBS never picked it up for a full series, only broadcasting it once as a “CBS Special Presentation” on July 17, 1984. The following year, After M*A*S*H was canceled after just two seasons, bringing the series legacy to a close.

Yet audiences can still tune in and enjoy the adventures of Radar and the rest of the 4077 M*A*S*H unit, as the series has never been taken off syndication and can be streamed on platforms like Hulu.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *