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William Christopher, who played the unassuming US Army chaplain, Father Mulcahy, struggling to bring spiritual comfort to an anarchic surgical unit during the Korean War on the long-running hit TV series “M*A*S*H,” died on Saturday. He was 84.
Christopher, who was diagnosed with cancer about 18 months ago, died in his bed at his home in Pasadena, California, according to his longtime New York-based agent, Robert Malcolm. The actor’s wife of nearly 60 years, Barbara Christopher, was with him at the time, Malcolm said.
Christopher landed his signature role of Father Francis Mulcahy on “M*A*S*H” after another actor played the part on the show’s pilot episode. He went on to portray the soft-spoken priest assigned to the fictional 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital for the duration of the series, which ran from 1972 to 1983 on the CBS network and continued to air in syndication for decades after.
Together with Alan Alda as Captain “Hawkeye” Pierce, Loretta Swit as Major Margaret “Hotlips” Houlihan and Jamie Farr as cross-dressing Corporal Maxwell Klinger, Christopher was among the only cast members to remain on the show for all 11 seasons.
Its 1983 finale drew 106 million viewers, making it the most-watched US TV show to date.
In his portrayal of Father Mulcahy, a character originated in the 1970 film that inspired TV’s “M*A*S*H,” Christopher was a supporting player, but his role grew as the series went on.
After producers of the show decided to replace George Morgan, the actor originally cast as the chaplain, Christopher got a chance to audition for the part. Although he irked producers by ad-libbing lines in his tryout, he impressed them with his quirky performance, and they offered him the job, provided he followed the script.
As portrayed by Christopher, Mulcahy was a mild-mannered, sometimes timid presence amid the chaos of “meatball surgery” on troops wounded in the 1950-53 Korean War. The character resisted offering a religious hard-sell to the hard-boiled Army medical personnel and the wounded patients. (Reuters)