Leaving the battlefields of the military-medical comedy M*A*S*H, Gary Burghoff, who played the sweet yet sneaky Radar, surrendered his career to fixing his family, which was slowly breaking down.
Recently, the 79-year-old Emmy-winning actor became a grandfather when his son, Miles “Sonar” Burghoff, had a baby girl.
In late March 2023, Miles posted a photo of him holding his newly-born daughter. The caption reads, “I caught the best 8-pounder of my life today! Everyone meet Rylee Elisabeth Burghoff!”
Inheriting his father’s love of fishing, Miles is a professional angler. “He’s the one who really started me out,” the younger Burghoff said at a fishing tournament.
His father answered, “I’m just here to offer moral support. This is a testament to parents doing what they love with their kids.”
Though Miles didn’t follow the same career trail as his father, he does have a name reminiscent of the famous Radar. “I was dubbed the name Sonar because my father had the role of Radar on the TV series M*A*S*H,” Miles said.
Miles and his brother Jordan are the sons of Burghoff and his second wife, Elizabeth Bolstrom, whom he married in 1985 and divorced in 2005. Bolstrom died in November 2019.
Burghoff also has a daughter, Gena Gayle Burghoff, who was born in 1985, with his first wife, Janet Gayle, whom he divorced in 1979.
When Burghoff left M*A*S*H, he didn’t leave with much.
“I didn’t leave M*A*S*H a wealthy man,” Burghoff said in an interview with People. “I could have renegotiated my contract, but money wasn’t the most important thing in my life…You either want to be rich and famous, or you want to be a daddy. You can’t do both.”
Rejecting several offers for roles in 1980’s sitcoms, including a part on Newhart, Burghoff instead chose regional theater. He added, “I wanted to pick the number of weeks I’d work and spend the rest of the time with my family.”
The theater roles, which eventually burned out, didn’t compare to his breakout role on M*A*S*H.
Spanning over seven seasons from 1972 to 1983, Burghoff starred in the hit TV series as Cpl. Walter ‘Radar’ O’Reilly, a naïve farm boy working as the company clerk (sometimes bugler) with the U.S. Army’s Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) in the Korean War (1950-1953).
Burghoff is the only actor who played his character in both the TV series and the film (1970), which also starred Donald Sutherland, Robert Duvall and Sally Kellerman in her Oscar-nominated performance of Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan, a role played by Loretta Swit in the TV adaptation.
After appearing on every episode for the first three seasons, it’s reported that Burghoff’s demanding schedule was taxing on his family life, which resulted in reducing his character’s appearances to 13 episodes, down from his previous 24.
Season seven marked Radar’s departure, with a two-part farewell, Good-Bye Radar, that explained his discharge from the army.
In an interview with The Television Academy Foundation, M*A*S*H director, Charles S. Dubin explained that Burghoff was having trouble with his wife at the time. Referring the Goodbye Radar episodes, where the character has to say good-bye to the woman he loved, Dubin said that Burghoff “couldn’t go on. He broke into tears and I had to stop everything for 15 minutes and walk him around the backlot of Fox.” Dubin continued, “In the script, he was talking about a future with her, possibly, (which) related to his own domestic problems. I think that was a large part of it.”
M*A*S*H continued another three seasons with the show’s originals–the award-winning Alan Alda playing Capt. Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, Loretta Swit as “Hot Lips” Houlihan and Jamie Farr as Sgt. Maxwell Q. Klinger–minding the barracks.
Burghoff reprised his role as Radar for two episodes in the spinoff series AfterMash, and for W*A*L*T*E*R, a third spin-off telling the story of Radar’s life post MASH, which wasn’t picked up.
Hoping to lure Burghoff back, producers offered him a $US4 million contract, which he declined. By 1991, “the money ran out,” and Burghoff was near bankrupt. “I was down to my last $500,” he said in the interview with People.
That was when the multi-talented Burghoff–an off-Broadway actor, jazz musician, stamp collector and inventor of Chum Magic, a device used to attract fish–decided to paint a new picture.
Burghoff started painting North American wildlife, canvas oil paintings that were displayed in galleries, that sold for $25,000 a piece.
Today, if you’re lucky, you might be able to find a piece at auction.
Four years ago, Burghoff supported a GoFundMe campaign for people whose lives were affected by the California fires. Of course, he looks older in the video, posted by his son Jordan, which had fans praising his acting and efforts.
One said, “OMG I remember him when I was just a child watching mash. He still has the same voice and looks.” Another commented, “Good to see you Mr. Burghoff, I’m donating not just because of the need, but because I feel I owe you something. As a kid I watched MASH and loved your work. Now my wife and I are enjoying it all over again on Netflix. You made me laugh, feel, and think, and I appreciated all of that. Jordan, thanks for posting this.”
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We’re fortunate to have people like Gary Burghoff in this world! Tell us your memories of M*A*S*H and what are your thoughts on him leaving his role as Radar to try save his marriage?