Inside ‘M*A*S*H’s William Christopher’s 59 Years Marriage to Co-star He Met on a Blind Date in College

Olawale
Jan 13, 2022
07:40 P.M.
Share this pen
FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmail

William Christopher, aka Father Mulcahy in the riveting series "M*A*S*H," was an intriguing character to watch. In reality, the onscreen cleric had a wonderful life with his long-term wife and one-time co-star whom he met during his college years. 

Advertisement

William Christopher did a fine job playing the helpful and hardworking Father Mulcahy in the historical series, "M*A*S*H." The TV classic had a train of engaging stories and personalities that the viewers could connect with.

From Alan Alda to Gary Burghoff and William Christopher, each man played very different roles that allowed thousands of viewers to remain glued throughout the running years of the show. 

A screenshot of William Christopher, as Father Mulcahy from the legendary series "M*A*S*H | Photo: youtube.com/MeTV

Advertisement

Expectedly, off-screen, these men lived differently from their scripts. William was a happily married man who was dedicated to family. His marriage lasted for nearly sixty years.

HOW WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER MET THE LOVE OF HIS LIFE

William and Barbara starred side by side on "M*A*S*H." Even though the priest was not married, he connected with his real-life wife. Decades before their onscreen performance, the duo had been inseparable, even though they fell in love when they least expected to.

Barbara met her husband during his time at Wesleyan University. William was from Chicago, and after his time in New Trier High School, he left to study drama and Greek literature at the University.

Advertisement

William Christopher during M*A*S*H Reunion on the "Today" Show at NBC Studios in New York | Photo: Getty Images

The Wesleyan University alum went on a blind date with Barbara, and the spark was instantaneous. At age 25, the young man decided that it was time to share marital vows, which he did with his blind date lover.

Advertisement

HOW THE COUPLE BECAME PARENTS

William became a father before landing the role of Father Mulcahy. When the couple decided to begin their parenthood journey in 1966, they opted to adopt. Their first child was John.

Two years later, they adopted another son named Ned. The baby was six weeks old and was pronounced healthy following his score on the developmental test. However, they noticed that Ned was unique and different from other children.

Former "M*A*S*H*" castmates William Christopher and Loretta Swit arrive at the Closing Night Gala for the 1st Annual Burbank International Film Festival in California | Photo: Getty Images

Advertisement

As a 2-year-old, their second child hated being cuddled like most children would have loved, and he shied away from eye contact. Ned also exhibited difficulty saying his name and refrained from talking to visitors or strangers.

However, the youngster was exceptionally brilliant in some areas. He even gained the affection of many teachers who admitted that their son was a bright kid, even though he alienated himself. According to the Christophers:

"At 2½ he could name all the flags of the world, and he could pick out a tune on the piano. His teachers at nursery school said he was the smartest little boy they had ever seen.

Advertisement

William Christopher at the 7th Annual TV Land Awards held at Gibson Amphitheatre on April 19, 2009 | Photo: Getty Images

The proud father continued: "He didn't play with the other children, he parallel-played, but they told us not to worry." Before the teachers' verdicts, the couple was not bothered about their son, who they recognized as an intelligent mind, because he loved to be independent.

Advertisement

Although they observed that he possessed a wealth of knowledge for his age, their only concern was his inability to say his name and Ned's constant hollers.

LIFELONG BATTLE

Father Mulcahy was courageous and polite onscreen; this was a skill he also needed in real life to be an excellent parent, especially with a son like Ned. Barbara booked appointments with experts to determine their son's condition.

Miraculously, she met a neurosurgeon's nurse who referred her to the UCLA pediatric neurology department, where the diagnosis read "atypical with autistic features."

Advertisement

William Christopher Angel Awards on February 19, 1987 | Photo: Getty Images

The couple struggled to enroll him in a special-ed school as advised at the hospital. However, many of those schools were full. Eventually, Ned's parents found one, but they rejected their son because he was not "atypical" enough.

Advertisement

This led to a discovery. Another specialist in child development carried out some tests and confirmed that Ned was not autistic but that he needed to be in a therapeutic nursery school.

The family tested many programs to help their son and never backed down despite the challenges or outcome. For example, there was a time the actor had to run five miles daily with his child to stimulate the young man's neurological development.

As time went by, Ned continued to lag, yet his parents never gave up on him. Experts advised them to give him away and considered their situation hopeless after he proved to be autistic.

Jamie Farr, Loretta Swit, David Ogden Stiers, Harry Morgan, Mike Farrell, Alan Alda, and William Christopher in publicity portrait for the film 'M*A*S*H', Circa 1978 | Photo: Getty Images

Advertisement

As their son reached his teenage years, things proved more challenging. His tantrums worsened—he would pinch his mom and be obsessed with touching things outdoors. The couple ran dozens of neurologic tests in Philadelphia. Still, they did not find a cure.

The situation was devastating; their hopes had been bashed. John, their first son, was disappointed, and it turned out to be the "worst period" of their lives. 

Somehow, William still saw the silver lining in everything, even through his work schedule and son's care. While speaking about Ned and "M*A*S*H," he said in a telephone interview with the Deseret News:

Advertisement

"It was nice that Ned and M*A*S*H happened together in a way. It made the difficult thing we faced with Ned a little easier."

William Christopher and wife Barbara O'Conner attend ABC TV Affiliates Dinner on October 10, 1985 | Photo: Getty Images

Advertisement

By 1989, Ned was in a better condition and was in Devereux Foundation, where they visited him and phoned.

While many would see these two as heroes, they wanted the world to know the complexities of having a special needs child, and scripted their experience in a publication titled "Mixed Feelings." They also told parents in an interview that:

"When we adopted Ned, we did not know what was ahead for us. Parents should know that it's a lifelong fight to get what your child needs."

William Christopher and Barbara O'Conner attend Angel Awards on February 19, 1987 | Photo: Getty Images

Advertisement

LAST YEARS OF LIFE AND SON'S REVELATIONS 

William was an excellent parent who was diagnosed with cancer in 2015. The actor was scheduled for chemotherapy and responded well to the treatments.

However, by 2017, he became sick, and everything changed. His first son revealed that William was living a healthy life until the illness struck. Following his death at age 84, in his Pasadena home, described as peaceful, John added that:

"He was a compassionate man. He was a very thoughtful person."

Wayne Rogers, William Christopher, and Alan Alda on the set of M*A*S*H | Photo: Getty Images

The "M*A*S*H star was also vast in astronomy and Greek literature. His yearn for knowledge caused him to move around with the "The Iliad" book while on set, which his co-stars noticed.

Advertisement