Gary Burghoff

Active - 1970 - 2010  |   Born - May 24, 1943 in Bristol, Connecticut, United States  |   Genres - Comedy Drama, Comedy, Drama

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Biography by Hal Erickson

American actor Gary Burghoff was the son of a Connecticut clockworks executive and a professional dancer. Under the aegis of his mother (the dancer), Burghoff studied tap dancing from age 5; he also trained himself to be a professional drummer, despite the fact that he'd been born with three deformed fingers on his left hand. Turning to acting, Burghoff found that his high piping voice and his 5'6" frame consigned him to child and teenager roles - which became a blessing when he was cast in the title role of the off-broadway musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown in 1967. Director Robert Altman cast Burghoff as Cpl. "Radar" O'Reilly in his antiwar comedy M*A*S*H (1970); the name Radar was derived from the character's uncanny ability to anticipate what people were going to say and to sense when the "choppers" were bringing incoming wounded into the "Mobile Army Surgical Hospital" of the film's acronymic title. When M*A*S*H was converted into a TV situation comedy in 1972, Burghoff was the only member of the original movie cast to be signed for the series (It was not his first TV stint; he'd been a regular on 1970's Don Knotts Show). The actor played company clerk Radar from 1972 through 1979, winning an Emmy in the process and endearing himself to millions of fans. Not all his costars found Burghoff as lovable as Radar; he could be somewhat bullheaded on the set, especially when he felt that others weren't working to their fullest capacity. Except for occasional guest-star appearances - including an inevitable spot on Murder She Wrote, that settlement house of former sitcom stars - Burghoff hasn't worked much since M*A*S*H. This inactivity was by choice, in that Burghoff preferred to devote his time to his numerous pro-ecology and Animal Rights causes. In the late 1980s, Gary Burghoff was reunited with several of his M*A*S*H costars in a series of elaborately produced IBM television commercials. He would go on to make a smattering of apperances on TV, on shows like The Love Boat and Fantasy Island.

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  • Despite being born with deformed fingers, he took up the drums in high school and performed in jazz groups. 
  • Originated the title role of Charlie Brown in the 1967 off-Broadway musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
  • Licensed in California to care for wounded animals, he was called "The Birdman of Malibu" by neighbors for his yard full of birds and other creatures.
  • Was the only principal actor from the cast of Robert Altman's film M*A*S*H (1970) to join the CBS sitcom M*A*S*H (1972-83); he appeared in seven seasons, then chose to leave to pursue other interests.
  • Launched a lucrative career as a wildlife artist and sold his paintings in galleries.
  • Known for numerous inventions related to fishing, including Chum Magic, which is used to attract more fish to a boat.