‘M*A*S*H’ Star Alan Alda Reflects on That Shocking Death in Honor of Show’s 50th Anniversary

by Craig Garrett

Veteran actor and M*A*S*H star Alan Alda is opening up about the classic tv show’s most shocking moment on its 50th anniversary. While reminiscing about the show’s 50th anniversary, the 86-year-old Golden Globe winner recalled Colonel Henry Blake’s (McLean Stevenson) unexpected death as a moment that “shocked” the audience.

“[Co-creator Larry Gelbart] showed me the scene. I think [it was] the morning of the shoot. I knew, but nobody else knew. He wanted to get everybody’s first-time reactions,” Alda told the New York Times. “And it really affected [costar] Gary Burghoff on camera. I think everybody was grateful for the shock.”

The episode “Abyssinia, Henry” aired on March 18, 1975. Radar (Burghoff) informed the team that Col. Blake’s plane had been shot down over the Sea of Japan at the conclusion of the episode. “It shocked the audience, too. I had a letter from a man who complained that he had to console his 10-year-old son, who was sobbing. But it was one of the ways for the adults in the audience to realize that another aspect of war is that things happen that you don’t expect,” Alda explained. 

Alan Alda explains why he believes M*A*S*H was a hit 

M*A*S*H was a television show that aired on CBS from 1972 to 1983. It had 11 seasons and was based on Robert Altman’s film of the same name released in 1970. The story follows a group of doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel stationed at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital located in Uijeongbu, South Korea during the Korean War. Though the show was a comedy, it frequently dealt with grim, real-world issues. 

Alan Alda feels the show resonated with audiences because it was based on fact. “Aside from really good writing and good acting and good directing, the element that really sinks in with an audience is that, as frivolous as some of the stories are, underneath it is an awareness that real people lived through these experiences and that we tried to respect what they went through,” Alda said. “I think that seeps into the unconscious of the audience.”

Alda, who revealed in 2018 that he has Parkinson’s disease, said the illness isn’t holding him back. “I’m busy,” he told People in 2019. “I do occasionally do nothing and sit around. But I believe in doing everything in moderation, including moderation. So far it’s working.”

The beloved actor believes that keeping curious about his illness helps motivate him. “My life hasn’t changed much. I just applied my curiosity to it. I’m constantly reading and trying to figure out the best approaches. So far it’s really interesting. I think it’s helped me understand a little better that everybody has something they’re coping with,” Alan Alda said.