Gary Burghoff, renowned for his role as the clever and mischievous Radar in the military-medical comedy MAS*H, made a significant career shift to prioritize his family, which was gradually falling apart.
In recent news, the 79-year-old Emmy-winning actor celebrated becoming a grandfather when his son, Miles “Sonar” Burghoff, welcomed a baby girl. In late March 2023, Miles shared a heartwarming photo holding his newborn daughter, accompanied by a caption that introduced her to the world as Rylee Elisabeth Burghoff, weighing eight pounds.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Miles developed a deep love for fishing and pursued a career as a professional angler. During a fishing tournament, he credited his father for sparking his passion, stating, “He’s the one who really got me started.” Gary humbly responded, “I’m just here to offer moral support. It’s a testament to parents enjoying what they love with their children.”
Although Miles pursued a different career path than his father, he carries a name reminiscent of the beloved Radar character. Miles explained, “I was given the nickname Sonar because my father portrayed Radar on the TV series MAS*H.”
Miles and his brother Jordan are the children of Gary Burghoff and his second wife, Elizabeth Bolstrom, whom he married in 1985 but later divorced in 2005. Sadly, Bolstrom passed away in November 2019. Gary also has a daughter named Gena Gayle Burghoff, born in 1985, from his first marriage to Janet Gayle, which ended in 1979.
When Gary departed from MASH, he didn’t depart with substantial wealth. In an interview with People, he confessed, “I didn’t leave MASH a wealthy man. 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 father. You can’t do both.”
Despite receiving several offers for roles in 1980s sitcoms, including an opportunity on Newhart, Gary opted for regional theater. He explained, “I wanted to choose the number of weeks I’d work and spend the rest of the time with my family.” However, the theater roles eventually waned in comparison to his breakthrough portrayal on MAS*H.
Spanning seven seasons from 1972 to 1983, Gary Burghoff captivated audiences in the hit TV series as Cpl. Walter ‘Radar’ O’Reilly, an innocent farm boy serving as the company clerk (and occasionally bugler) in the U.S. Army’s Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) during the Korean War (1950-1953).
Burghoff holds the distinction of being the only actor to portray his character in both the TV series and the 1970 film, which also starred Donald Sutherland, Robert Duvall, and Sally Kellerman in her Oscar-nominated performance as Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan (a role portrayed by Loretta Swit in the TV adaptation).
During the initial three seasons, Gary appeared in every episode. However, his demanding schedule reportedly strained his family life, resulting in a reduction of his character’s appearances to 13 episodes per season, down from the previous 24.
In the seventh season, Radar bid farewell in a two-part episode titled “Good-Bye Radar,” which depicted his discharge from the army. In an interview with The Television Academy Foundation, MAS*H director Charles S. Dubin revealed that Burghoff was going through difficulties with his wife at the time. Dubin explained that during the filming of the farewell episodes, where Radar had to say goodbye to the woman he loved, Gary “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 further elaborated, “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.”
MAS*H continued for another three seasons, with the original cast members including the award-winning Alan Alda as Capt. Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, Loretta Swit as “Hot Lips” Houlihan, and Jamie Farr as Sgt. Maxwell Q. Klinger holding down the fort.
Gary Burghoff reprised his role as Radar for two episodes in the spinoff series AfterMASH, and for WALTE*R, a third spin-off focusing on Radar’s life after MASH, which unfortunately didn’t get picked up. Producers attempted to entice Burghoff back with a $4 million contract, but he declined. By 1991, Gary had encountered financial difficulties and was near bankruptcy. He shared, “I was down to my last $500,” in the interview with People.
That was when the multi-talented Burghoff, who was an off-Broadway actor, jazz musician, stamp collector, and the inventor of Chum Magic, a fishing device, decided to venture into a new artistic realm: painting.
Burghoff delved into painting North American wildlife, creating canvas oil paintings that were showcased in galleries and sold for $25,000 each. Today, if you’re fortunate, you may come across one of his pieces at an auction.
Four years ago, Burghoff lent his support to a GoFundMe campaign for individuals affected by the California fires. In a video shared by his son Jordan, fans praised his acting skills and charitable efforts. One fan recalled, “OMG, I remember him from when I was just a child watching MASH. He still has the same voice and looks.” Another expressed their gratitude, saying, “It’s 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.”