Saturday, December 31, 2016

RIP William Christopher

This awful awful year just will not end.   Bill Christopher, who played Father Mulcahy, has passed away at 84.

A sweeter, nicer, more gentle man you'd never find.  He was an absolute pleasure to work with.  And he took a thankless role and turned it into a vibrant character.

I've always felt that Bill had the single greatest moment of MASH.  It was during "the Interview" episode when Father Mulcahy says this:

When the doctors cut into a patient and it's cold, you know the way it is now, today steam rises from the body and the doctor will will warm himself over the open wound.   Could anyone look on that and not feel changed? 

I never thought that line could make me any sadder, but from now on it will.  RIP Bill Christopher. 

And what's very eerie, Bill died one year to the day that Wayne Rogers died.  

38 comments :

Joe said...
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Joe said...

Such a sad way to end a sad year. Rest in peace, Mr. Christopher.

And the scene you cited, Ken, is the best dramatic moment in MASH. The best comedic moment came when Frank and Hot Lips had Henry up on charges. Nurse Cratty, coming to his defense, brought you a young Korean girl, who looked like she could give birth at any second, and said, "This is a sample of Henry Blake's work."

Patricia Hill said...
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Patricia Hill said...

Oh Ken this is so sad. What a sweet man and really enjoyed working on MASH and AFTER with him

Eric J said...

One of the most memorable lines in the entire series, more so because of the impeccable delivery. William Christopher made Father Mulcahey an unforgettable character.

CarolMR said...

RIP, William Christopher. Recently saw him on an episode of "The Andy Griffith Show."

Michael said...

My favorite priest. Bar none.

I loved the episode in which he performed the tracheotomy and the only prayer he could remember was grace. It is nice to read that he was, on "M*A*S*H," not necessarily acting--that he was just a lovely, sweet man.

suek2001 said...

I had a suggestion that we all raise a glass to 2017 and yell out JOCULARITY in tribute to him...and also as a prayer for the New Year...
There was one episode that I caught while I was in a long unemployment stretch and I wondered if I was ever going to amount to anything....He said the following line..and I bawled for ten minutes because I knew it was true...
---- "It doesn't matter if you feel useful going from one disaster to another--the trick I guess is to just keep moving."------

Father Mulcahy was my favorite character on MASH...that need to be a spiritual leader and also to be humanly useful was something a lot of us relate to. I think one of his best moments came in a Charles episode...His speech to Charles to encourage a soldier not to give up his gift of playing music makes me weep every time...and I just saw that episode Friday....

Well done, thou good and faithful servant...well done...

DwWashburn said...

I remember Bill being on Mad About You and he played a priest. In the tag, he stood in a church and looked upward asking why he always has to play a man of the cloth. He then starts doing imitations of gangsters, leading men, etc. It was very funny.

Breadbaker said...

When I heard the news, this is where I came (and immediately shared your column on Facebook).

Was there anyone who didn't like Father Mulcahy? Or Bill Christopher?

Andrew said...

I remember hearing that one time a person asked him what MASH was about, and he replied, "It's the story of a priest in Korea." RIP

Jeff C in DC said...

Can't find the actual quote, but I always remember his own reply to a question about the duty an actor has to a meaningful supporting role. When asked to explain MASH, he answered, "It's about an Army Chaplain's experiences during wartime." Nice.

Napalm Detroit said...

"Come quickly! It's the villagers! They're all [3-octave drop] buuurrrrned!"

David Goehner said...

Ever since I began collecting autographs through the mail (back when you could do such a thing, in the pre-eBay era), Bill Christopher has been someone I've characterized by the phrase "sincere gentleman" because of the way he'd respond to my fan request those many years ago. I once drew and mailed Bill a birthday card of him in his military roles from "Gomer Pyle", "M*A*S*H" and "AfterMASH" (being saluted by Gomer, Hawkeye, and Dr. Potter); many months later, I mailed him some photos to sign ... and, in the letter that was included in the envelope containing my returned photos (now all autographed), HE was the one who brought up that earlier birthday card. He remembered the card, he remembered my name as the person who created it, and he wrote to convey his appreciation for that card.

Was nice to also see him take on other non-Mulcahy-esque roles, such as on that episode of "Diagnosis Murder" involving the multi-"M*A*S*H" stunt casting where (spoiler warning!) Bill Christopher turned out to be the bad guy.

Question I'm hoping Ken might be able to answer: Since Bill Christopher played probably the most well known Catholic character in TV history -- or at least seems to have played a prominent Catholic character for longest period of time (13 seasons from 1972-1984) -- WAS Christopher himself Catholic? For all his frequently sensitive and always memorable portrayals of a faith leader, what was the level of Bill's religious involvement when he wasn't working?

dandy_lio said...

When I was a teen, I was homeless for a while. There was a restaurant that would feed some of us sometimes in the evenings. We would all come in and the owner would make us food and he'd put on M*A*S*H. I loved Mulchahy so much. I wrote a letter to Bill (the owner of the restaurant let me use his address for a return) telling him how much the show meant to me, how much I loved Mulchahy and that, even as an atheist, Mulchahy always managed to comfort me. Ironically, for a show about war, M*A*S*H was a safe place we could all be for a little while - food, shelter, warmth, being treated like a person.

Bill sent back a full page reply - not just a 'thanks for watching' but a full page reply responding to everything I wrote and telling me about some time he'd spent on the show, offering me support. It was such a generous, kind thing to do - he didn't have to reply, but he certainly didn't have to take so much time to write a full reply to everything.

I didn't know Bill in person, and I can't say my sadness for losing him is anything compared to those who knew him properly, but I will always remember the man who took the time to reply and write such generous and loving things to a really screwed up kid on the streets.

Lorimartian said...

Ken,

I hope you don't mind my mentioning here the passing of another industry veteran and Disney Legend, artist/animator Tyrus Wong, who died on Friday. He is credited with creating the inspired background art for "Bambi" and produced original production artwork for WB for many years. He was 106 years old. I went to junior high with his youngest daughter, a talented artist in her own right. He was a gentle and gracious soul, and my heart goes out to his family.

Barry Traylor said...

This is such sad news. Sundance Channel is running tons of episodes of MASH every Monday and I have been watching them again for the umpteenth time and being reminded just how good the show was and is. And how excellent William Christopher was as Father Mulcahy.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps my favorite "serious" episode of M*A*S*H centered around Father Mulcahy. Forgive me for not remembering the title but it was the one where the church big-wig was coming to visit and Mulcahy was trying so hard to get the rest of the unit to straighten up to impress him. I'm not a religious person but Christoper's acting as Mulcahy came in late and completely unprepared for his sermon and then continued until he changed his story from "he" to "I" was simply perfect and hits me hard every time when his church superior comes up to give him a hug.

Tommy Raiko said...

William Christopher also delivered one of my favorite lines of any M*A*S*H episode, from "The Smell of Music.' Feuding with tent-mate Charles, BJ and Hawkeye have given up bathing. After the duo become distractingly...fragrant...Mulcahy politely declines an offer to lunch with them. "Jesus ate with the lepers," Hawkeye chides. And Mulcahy responds "He was an exceptionally good sport." Another perfect William Christopher line reading. He was so great on that show. R.I.P., and condolences to his family and friends.

scottmc said...

William Christopher had so many wonderful moments in MASH that rank among the best in the series; you mentioned the scene in 'The Interview' and 'Michael' mentioned the tracheotomy scene-the wonder he expressed when the procedure worked. I also flashed back to the blessing he gives Henry Blake as Blake says his goodbye to the unit. He had a small role in the movie
'The Fortune Cookie'-he was the intern at the hospital where Jack Lemmon is taken after being injured. I thought it was cool that William Christopher was one of the few actors to be directed by both Billy Wilder and Larry Gelbart. R.I.P.

Andrew said...

On Twitter last night, someone posted the photo from the last MASH of "GOODBYE" spelled out in rocks. What a touching tribute.

One of the few positive memories of growing up with my messed-up family was watching MASH together. Loving that show was one of the few things my parents, siblings, and I all had in common.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Agreed! Suek. Jocularity! jocularity!
The scene where he had to take away the gun from the soldier seeking refuge in his tent was as brilliant as it gets.
RIP.

Sorry for your loss Ken.

SBell in San Mateo said...

I always loved the MASH episode ("Dear Mildred") where William Christopher sang a duet with his wife Barbara, playing Nurse O'Connor. The expression on his face as they sang together was so proud and supportive. It had little to do with the Mulcahy character, but they reminded me so much of my dear parents, sharing a tender moment. A fine example of a very decent man.

CarolMR said...

David Goehner, I just read that William Christopher was a Methhodist off-screen. Maybe Ken will confirm.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Dandy, any way you can post that letter here?

Buttermilk Sky said...

"One year to the day" after Wayne Rogers -- that is eerie. I have too much time on my hands so I was thinking about the dualities of death in 2016. Abe Vigoda and Ron Glass, both were on "Barney Miller." Patty Duke and William Schallert, who played her father on "The Patty Duke Show." Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. I think I read that Zsa Zsa's son died soon after she did. And now this.

Jon H said...

Mr. Christopher is the only cast member of MASH I've ever met, and it was a nice experience, though brief. He was appearing at Hill's Dept. Store in my hometown of Hendersonville, TN in May 1982, just before the last season was filmed in his MASH costume. Someone took a picture of him with me & my late brother, and I have it somewhere now on a slide. I'd love to move it to my computer if/when I can. He was a friendly person, and it was a fun experience for me & my brother.

Jeff Maxwell said...

I'm very sad at the loss of this nice nice man, the sweetest part of the MASH family. Bill and his wife, Barbara, shop at the same market I do in Pasadena. We’ve been running into each other at least twice a month for the last ten years, mostly in the produce section. One of the checkers loves MASH, and much to his delight at having two people from the show as regulars, beaming, he never misses a chance to tell me that I just missed Bill.

And I will, very much.

My heart goes out to Barbara and his sons. Navigating his illness and this loss during a holiday season must be excruciating.

MikeN said...

Is he related to Harry Anderson?

Morgue Findlay said...

"One year to the day" after Wayne Rogers -- that is eerie. I have too much time on my hands so I was thinking about the dualities of death in 2016. Abe Vigoda and Ron Glass, both were on "Barney Miller." Patty Duke and William Schallert, who played her father on "The Patty Duke Show." Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. I think I read that Zsa Zsa's son died soon after she did. And now this.


Prince and the actor inside the R2D2 suit... they were each three feet tall.

Abe Vigoda and George Michael... both known for spending an inordinate amount of time in the bathroom.

Julius La Rosa and Jose Fernandez... both were doing well until their career hit the rocks.

Keith Emerson and Greg Lake... no connection.

Janet Reno and Chyna... no connection.

Garry Shandling and Antonin Scalia... neither can ever be replaced.

Anton Yelchin and Frank Sinatra Jr., both snatched away from us too soon.

Michael K said...

Jeff, it's so good to know that he was as kind in real life as he was on my television screen. The episode "Dear Sis" from Season 7 will live on as one of my favorites of the series.

Condolences to his family and to you guys from a MASH fan from Philadelphia.

Mike Barer said...

Mr. Christopher was in my opinion, the forgotten member of the Mash cast. Perhaps it was because he filled his role so well.

James Van Hise said...

Another odd MASH related death. McClean Stevenson died Feb. 15, 1996 and one day later Roger Bowen who played Henry Blake in the 1970 movie died Feb. 16, 1996.

Mike Barer said...

I remember the two Henry Blakes dying nearly at the same time. I believe there was a coincidence in the deaths of the two gentlemen who played Darren Stephens on Bewitched.

Chuck Huber said...

My vavorite William Chrstopher moment was the scene (wish I could cite episode title and quote exactly!) was the scene where he is talking to Dr. Sidney Freedman (Allen Arbus), the 5077th's recurring psychologist cheacteer. Dr. Levine notes that when one of the surgeons fails, at least the paitnet's pain is over, but when he fails, he's lost a mind. Fr. Mulcahy sympathizes, observing that when *he* hails, he loses a soul. Great work by both actors.

dandy_lio said...

Hi, Bumble - I would, but it is in storage in the US at my mother's house - I live in the UK now and probably won't return to the US for the forceable future. Otherwise, I'd be happy to post it. Sorry!

Graeme said...

He was able to really grab the essence of any scene and articulate it beautifully. And he did comedy takes like nobody's business. There's nothing funnier than the scene in "A War For All Seasons" where Mulcahy, having spent all year growing fresh corn, goes to eat it to discover that Igor, only experienced in making army food, had creamed it! The combination of sheer fury and obliging restraint that William Christopher manages to convey in a single look is awe-inspiring. He will be missed.

Betty said...

JOCULARITY! JOCULARITY!

The book he and his wife wrote about raising their autistic son was very good. He seemed like such a lovely man.