Why Did Gary Burghoff Leave MASH?

Gary Burghoff’s portrayal of Radar O’Reilly in the hit television show MAS*H made him a beloved character in television history. However, as the show progressed, Radar’s presence became less frequent until he eventually left the 4077th. This article delves into the reasons behind Radar’s departure and why Gary Burghoff decided to walk away from the show. The decisions were not easy for him, and various factors contributed to his exit from the iconic series.

Gary Burghoff , Source : Screen Rant
Gary Burghoff , Source : Screen Rant

Details In Short

Important information from the article:

  • Name: Walter “Radar” O’Reilly
  • Age: Initially drafted as an 18-year-old
  • Actor: Gary Burghoff
  • Location: 4077th (a military unit)
  • Time: Season 8 of MAS*H
  • Date: “Goodbye Radar” episodes, which were Episodes 4 and 5 of Season 8
  • Reason for leaving: Radar’s uncle passed away, and his mother needed help with the family farm in Iowa.
  • Decision to leave the show: Gary Burghoff decided to leave MAS*H for personal reasons, including feeling unappreciated and having trouble with his wife at the time.
  • Other appearances: Gary Burghoff made guest appearances in the spinoff series AfterMASH and a pilot episode for a spinoff called WALTE*R.

Radar’s Departure in Season 8

In Season 8 of MAS*H, Radar’s departure was depicted in the two-part episode titled “Goodbye Radar” (Episodes 4 and 5). The storyline revolves around Radar learning about his uncle’s passing, which would leave his mother alone and struggling to manage the family farm in Iowa. In a heartwarming gesture, Colonel Potter arranged for Radar to receive a hardship discharge so he could return home and support his mother during this difficult time.

Initially, Radar hesitated to leave the 4077th, as the unit was facing challenges without a generator. Despite encouragement from Colonel Potter and Hawkeye, Radar couldn’t bear the thought of leaving his comrades in distress. It was only when he witnessed Klinger successfully acquiring a new generator that he realized the team would survive without him. Leaving his teddy bear with Hawkeye, Radar decided to return to Iowa and bid farewell to the 4077th.

Gary Burghoff’s Decision to Walk Away

The decision to walk away from MAS*H was a difficult one for Gary Burghoff. While the character of Radar had gained immense popularity, Burghoff chose to prioritize his family over his work commitments. Director Charles S. Dubin, in an interview with the Television Academy Foundation, shed light on the multiple reasons behind Gary’s departure.

According to Dubin, Gary felt he wasn’t getting the recognition he deserved for his contributions to the show, which left him somewhat disheartened. However, the real catalyst behind his decision to leave was his personal life. During the filming of the “Goodbye Radar” episodes, Radar falls in love with a woman whom he must part ways with, leading to an emotional breakdown on set. This real-life heartache, combined with domestic issues, weighed heavily on Gary’s mind and eventually led to his departure.

Burghoff also faced challenges on set due to a severe sleeping problem, causing him to be late for call times frequently. These issues contributed to his desire to move on and explore different acting opportunities outside of MAS*H.

After leaving the show, Gary Burghoff did not pursue acting as extensively as before. He did, however, return to the MASH franchise by guest-starring in the spinoff series, AfterMASH, for two episodes. Additionally, there were plans for a spinoff centered around Radar, titled WALTER, which was filmed as a pilot but was not picked up by CBS.

Gary Burghoff: The Face of Radar

Gary Burghoff’s portrayal of Radar O’Reilly was iconic and unforgettable. While MAS*H was initially a lighthearted sitcom, it evolved into a dramedy, tackling serious issues such as trauma, racism, and homophobia ahead of its time. Alongside Alan Alda’s Hawkeye Pierce, Burghoff’s Radar became a central figure in the series, admired for his superhuman hearing and youthful innocence, which provided a stark contrast to the cynicism of other characters.

Interestingly, Burghoff was the only actor to play the same role in both the

MAS*H movie and the TV series. However, there were notable differences in his portrayal. In the movie, Radar was a darker and more opportunistic character, while in the TV series, Burghoff opted to make the character more naive and youthful. This decision was supported by Radar’s intended age of around 18, despite Burghoff himself being nearly 30 years old at the time. When Radar left the series in the “Goodbye Radar” episode, Burghoff removed the hat he had worn throughout the show, symbolizing Radar’s growth from a boy to a man during the war.

Challenges Faced by MASH Spinoffs

Following the conclusion of MASH, several spinoff series were produced but did not achieve the same level of success. Trapper John M.D. followed the titular character, played by Wayne Rogers, in a medical drama set years after the war. Although the show’s producers claimed it was based on the original book rather than the MASH series, the connection was evident.

AfterMASH, another spinoff, focused on Colonel Potter, Klinger, and Father Mulcahy as they adjusted to civilian life. While initially successful in terms of ratings, the show received poor reviews and is now considered one of the worst spinoffs in television history. Gary Burghoff made a guest appearance in AfterMASH, and a TV movie titled WALTER followed, in which Radar becomes a policeman. Unfortunately, WALTER also faced negative reception and did not progress beyond the pilot stage.


Gary Burghoff’s departure from MAS*H and the subsequent exit of his beloved character, Radar O’Reilly, left fans wondering about the reasons behind the decisions. While Radar’s departure was explained in the show through a hardship discharge, the real-life reasons that led to Gary’s departure were more complex. Personal challenges, including a troubled marriage, combined with a desire to explore new acting opportunities, prompted him to bid farewell to the show.

Despite leaving MAS*H, Gary Burghoff’s legacy as Radar O’Reilly remains etched in television history. His portrayal of the endearing and empathetic character endeared him to audiences worldwide. While spinoff attempts did not reach the same heights, Burghoff’s contribution to the franchise will always be remembered.

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