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M*A*S*H's Gary Burghoff Was on the Brink of Bankruptcy Because He Wanted 'To Be a Daddy'

Oyin Balogun
Jan 22, 2022
11:40 A.M.
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American actor Gary Burghoff famous for his acting exploits on the tv series "M*A*S*H," nearly went bankrupt when he decided to turn down lucrative ventures and spend more time with his family. Here is what happened.

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CBS Television series "M*A*S*H" is regarded as one of the most famous shows in the 1970s. The series finale turned out to be one of the most-watched in television history. 

Gary Burghoff was one cast member that made the series the darling of many fans. The actor played Walter Eugene "Radar" O'Reilly, the company clerk and an impressive burglar.

Photos of Actor Gary Burghoff on "M*A*S*H" | Photo: YouTube.com/MeTV

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Burghoff's character was widely regarded as the heart and soul of the series. While other characters used sarcasm and cynicism to deal with trauma, Burghoff was allowed to deal with things with a sense of innocence. Sadly, the actor left the series after the first seven seasons. 

BURGHOFF HAD REASONS TO LEAVE "M*A*S*H"

Fans of the series were very sad when Burghoff left the show after its seventh season. Although he returned in the 8th season to film a special two-part farewell episode, It proved to be the last time viewers saw him act on the show.

Warner Bros. reportedly offered the actor $4 million to return to "M*A*S*H," which would have made him one of the top three highest-paid TV stars in 1980. 

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Gary Burghoff portrays Corporal Walter 'Radar' O'Reilly on the CBS television series, "M*A*S*H." | Photo: Getty Images

Burghoff refused the contract. At the time, the actor was not seeking fame or money. Instead, he wanted the opportunity to reconnect with his family, friends, and roots. 

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Speaking to the Logansport-Pharos Tribune in 1984, Burghoff revealed he left the show because of what he tagged as an occupational burnout. The actor said

 "I left M*A*S*H because I couldn't function anymore. I'd given all I had to give to the part and to the show. I care too much to give less than my best. I'd lost my vitality."

Gary Burghoff appearing in the ABC tv movie 'Casino', aka 'SS Casino'. | Photo: Getty Images

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Even though his decision to leave was not easy, the actor had many other reasons to quit. Burghoff reportedly decided to take his family more seriously. 

The actor was having issues with his wife at the time, and he cried while filming the episode "Goodbye Radar" on "M*A*S*H," where his character had fallen in love with a woman he had to leave. 

This outburst was said to have been related to domestic issues he was dealing with in his personal life. Burghoff also developed a sleeping problem due to the unhappiness he faced filming "M*A*S*H" and wanted to be out filming other projects. 

Gary Burgoff, Loretta Swit and Alan Alda from the television program "M*A*S*H." | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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HOW BURGHOFF ALMOST WENT BANKRUPT

By 1991, Burghoff was on the brink of bankruptcy. This was due to his decision to leave "M*A*S*H" when he did and subsequently turning down other lucrative ventures. 

The actor who also lost his gig as a pitchman for British petroleum explained, "I was down to my last $500. The money ran out." He did not leave the movie industry because he had already made much money; he left for his family. According to Burghoff:  

 "I didn't leave M*A*S*H a wealthy man. I could have renegotiated my contract, but money wasn't the most important thing in my life."

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Gary Burghoff at a convention. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Burghoff wanted to pick the type of work where he would have a say to create time to spend with his family.

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The superstar admitted his regrets and blamed his tight working schedule as one of the reasons his marriage to his first wife, Janet, a technician, ended in divorce in 1979. 

The actor also attributed missing the early parts of his daughter Gena, who is also an actress's life, to the 16 hours of workdays filming "M*A*S*H." He explained

"You either want to be rich and famous, or you want to be a daddy. You can't do both."

Gary Burghoff presenting on the ABC tv special '1976 / 11th Academy of Country Music Awards', at the Palladium. | Photo: Getty Images

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Burghoff was unemployed when he married his second wife, Elisabeth Bostrom, a dental assistant for the developmentally disabled, in 1991.

Before leaving "M*A*S*H," Burghoff had become a born-again Christian. When he faced financial problems and stared down at bankruptcy, he prayed for help.  

After his prayer, Burghoff heard a tiny voice instruct him to paint. So the actor picked up a brush and started painting, an art he casually did as a vocation. Painting led to a resurgence in his finances, and soon, he started making a name for himself as an artist. 

Gary Burghoff competing in the golf competition on the ABC tv series 'Battle of the Network Stars II'. | Photo: Getty Images

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GARY BURGHOFF'S NEW CAREER 

Gary Burghoff has made a name for himself as a painter. The actor's interest in painting started as a young and promising kid in high school. His wildlife paintings are made from oils and a few watercolors depicting animals of North America.

One of his works shows that animals have been reintroduced into their natural habitats due to their reducing numbers. Another set of his paintings focuses on animal eyes. Talking about his inspiration for those forms of art, Burghoff once said

"I'm hoping to make the viewer see the beauty and soul of the animal."

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Gary Burghoff as Radar from the television program "M*A*S*H." | Source: Wikimedia Commons

With his remarkable work as a wildlife and animal advocate, Burghoff was once asked to pick a painting as a government stamp for hunters. The actor was so euphoric that he spent three days locked in a room with 600 original duck paintings. 

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The actor said his desire to spend less time away from his two young kids from his second marriage and more time being a parent was why he decided to take up painting full-time and spend less time acting. 

Burghoff's paintings have found medium success in small art shows all over the country. The opening weekend of the Litchfield exhibit attracted over 400 guests who bought up to 50 of his limited edition prints. 

Gary Burghoff as Cpl. Walter 'Radar' O'Reilly in the CBS television sitcom, "M*A*S*H" circa 1977. | Photo: Getty Images

Most of his paintings range from $225 to $500. His originals are worth $18,000. One of his sold-out editions, a black-and-white cat, Connecticat, goes for about $1,500 at the secondary market. 

The actors' paintings are pretty affordable. Their small sizes and the strong use of color and balance make them very popular among art enthusiasts. 

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