Why Did Radar Leave ‘M*A*S*H’?


The Big Picture

  • Radar is the heart and soul of
    , providing a level-headedness and sincerity that balances out the other loud and comedic characters.
  • Gary Burghoff, the actor who played Radar, left the show due to feeling burnt out and experiencing personal issues in his marriage.
  • “Goodbye, Radar” is considered one of the best episodes of
    , marking a poignant farewell for both the character and the series as it entered its later seasons.

Walter “Radar” O’Reilly (Gary Burghoff) is one of the most beloved characters on M*A*S*H, which is what makes it so hard when Season 8’s two-part episode “Goodbye, Radar” signaled that he would be exiting the program. But why did Burghoff decide to step away from this hit series? You would think that being one of the main actors on, arguably, the most popular show of the 1970s would be a gig that no one would ever want to walk away from, but some things in life are greater than fame and fortune. Even though Radar didn’t stick around for every single season until the series finale, his impact on the world of M*A*S*H would be felt all the way until the end.


The staff of an Army hospital in the Korean War find that laughter is the best way to deal with their situation.

Release Date
September 17, 1972

Larry Gelbart

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


Radar Is the Heart and Soul of ‘M*A*S*H’

One of the main things that keeps people coming back to M*A*S*H to this day is its massive cast of fantastic, iconic characters. Of course, you have Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce (Alan Alda), who would act as the series’ comic-yet-wise lead and stick with it until the series finale. Then there’s Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan (Loretta Swit), who appeared in a majority of the episodes and came out of it easily the most prominent female character in the whole ensemble, as well as one of the funniest cast members. Trapper John McIntyre (Wayne Rogers) would only be a part of the first three seasons, but Rogers’ chemistry with Alda and the rest of the cast was so great that his memory left a hole in the series after his departure. Then there’s the neurotic Frank Burns (Larry Linville), who is such a hilarious geek that you can’t help but love him. You can’t forget Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson), whose departure in “Abyssinia, Henry” rocked fans from all around the globe. There were many other heavy hitters, like Maxwell Q. Klinger (Jamie Farr), Sherman T. Potter (Harry Morgan), and Father Mulcahy (William Christopher), but still, few would match up to Radar.


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How could you not love Radar? He’s the heart and soul of the show’s first eight seasons. While the other characters on M*A*S*H are either always loud and cracking obnoxious jokes, yelling at someone else, or drinking and getting caught up in some sort of shenanigans, Radar is the one you can always rely on to be level-headed. Sure, he can be just as funny as the rest of them, and is also prone to getting caught up in the more dramatic moments that the show has to offer, but Radar doesn’t have a lick of a mean spirit to him. A lot of M*A*S*H‘s characters are so entertaining to watch because they can be trouble-making hotheads. Either that or they are just a couple of smart-ass, wisecracking jokesters. Radar is the foil to the entire cast. His character is quiet, sincere, a bit clumsy, and sneakily hilarious. M*A*S*H would go on for a few more years after Burghoff exited the series, but the show isn’t truly itself without Radar’s presence.

Audiences Struggled To Separate Gary Burghoff From His ‘M*A*S*H’ Character

Gary Burghoff is the only actor in the main ensemble of M*A*S*H that crossed over from Robert Altman’s original 1970 movie of the same name into the hit series. The M*A*S*H theatrical film was shot in 1969, and Burghoff would go on to play the character until season eight’s two-part episode, “Goodbye, Radar,” which aired in 1979. That’s 10 years of playing the same character. And while it was likely a fun part to play for a little while, a decade is a lot to ask of anybody and likely led to him feeling burnout. But why did Burghoff exit M*A*S*H?

While Burghoff himself hasn’t been too outspoken on why he left, in an interview with the Television Academy Foundation, one of the series’ recurring directors, Charles S. Dubin, claimed that the actor behind Radar felt as if he wasn’t getting his proper dues in the role. He would also go on to explain that Burghoff was having issues in his marriage to Janet Gyle at the time and that his troubles at home were affecting his work life. It’s sad to say that this adds up, considering their marriage ended in 1979.

Dubin further explained how the actor’s hardships affected his work, detailing a moment when they were filming “Goodbye, Radar” in which Burghoff broke down into tears and had to be walked around the Fox back lot until he could resume filming. The scene particularly had to do with Radar describing a future with a woman that he had fallen in love with, so Dubin speculates that the scene’s contents and the actor’s own life probably collided in a way that no one expected. In another interview, Burghoff expressed frustration with his identity, and how people had trouble differentiating him from his M*A*S*H character. “If the only identity we have is what we do, then we’re in big trouble — especially if we lose a job. Then we don’t have an identity anymore.”

“Goodbye, Radar” Is One of ‘M*A*S*H’s Best Episodes

Gary Burghoff as Walter "Radar" O'Reilly, standing in front of a We Love You Radar banner in M*A*S*H
Image via CBS

As for Radar’s on-screen sendoff, “Goodbye, Radar” came at the perfect time. It not only feels like a goodbye for the character himself, but for the series in general. By the late ’70s, M*A*S*H had become a shell of what it once was. You could still enjoy it from time to time, but enough of the main players had already exited and most of the show’s best ideas had already been trodden over by then. This final bow with Radar strays into M*A*S*H‘s more overly sentimental and mushy tendencies that it would fall prey to in its later seasons, but when Hawkeye finds Radar’s teddy bear at the end of the episode, you can’t help but feel a little emotional. This hook that had been a part of every bit of M*A*S*H wouldn’t be around anymore, leaving the show when its shine was already starting to wane. Goodbye Radar, indeed.


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After M*A*S*H, Gary Burghoff’s acting career would take a bit of a backseat as he spent more time with family, but he would still appear in movies and TV shows from time to time. Most importantly, he would reprise his role as Radar in two episodes of the sitcomAfterMASH, one that found Radar living on his family farm in Iowa. Burghoff would even film the pilot for a series called W*A*L*T*E*R*, a show that was meant to follow Radar as he worked as a cop, but ultimately, production never went beyond the pilot. M*A*S*H is full of wonderful characters, but Radar might be the one whose presence defines the series’ best years. It’s a shame that Burghoff had to go through such intense personal hardships that he left the series, but hopefully, he looks back on his time in the role with a positive eye. I think it’s safe to say that we all definitely do.

M*A*S*H* is available to stream on Hulu in the U.S.

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