David Ogden Stiers (1942-2018)

David Ogden Stiers, who played the snobbish Charles Emerson Winchester III, passed away today at the age of 75. He had been battling bladder cancer. Obituaries can be found at The Oregonian and Variety. I know the entire M*A*S*H fan community joins me in extending condolences to the family and friends of David Ogden Stiers for their loss.

Sadly, Stiers is the third member of the M*A*S*H cast we’ve lost in the past few years. Wayne Rogers died on December 31st, 2015. William Christopher died on December 31st, 2016.

David Ogden Stiers in the M*A*S*H 30th Anniversary Reunion Special (2002)

David Ogden Stiers in the M*A*S*H 30th Anniversary Reunion Special (2002)

Stiers began his acting career in the 1970s. Between 1976 and 1977, he guest starred in three episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show as station manager Mel Price. Burt Metcalfe happened to see one of these episodes and decided Stiers would be perfect for the role of Charles Emerson Winchester. Stiers joined the cast of M*A*S*H at the start of the show’s sixth season in the fall of 1977. His character replaced the inept and buffoonish Frank Burns (played by Larry Linville). Winchester was the complete opposite of Frank Burns: a gifted surgeon from a wealthy Boston family who loved classical music and the finer things in life.

Scriptwriter Ken Levine wrote about how Stiers helped refine the accent he’d use for Charles at his blog in October 2007:

We met with him [Stiers] the day before production began and discussed the character. He asked if he should do a Boston accent. He tried it, reading a portion of the next day’s script. We said it was good but we were concerned it would be a little hard to decipher. He said, “Well, let me back it off a little.” He read the same passage again and was perfect. We said, “That’s it!” And he did that, for every episode, the accent never slipping or changing. We knew we had a jewel.

In the Season 6 premiere (“Fade Out, Fade In”), Winchester is initially sent to the 4077th as a temporary replacement but by the end of the episode, he’s assigned there permanently. He makes it very clear how he feels in a memorable speech:

“But know this. You can cut me off from the civilized world. You can incarcerate me with two moronic cellmates. You can torture me with your thrice daily swill, but you cannot break the spirit of a Winchester. My voice shall be heard from this wilderness and I shall be delivered from this fetid and festering sewer.”

Throughout Season 6, the writers worked to get a better handle on the new character. In “The Winchester Tapes,” Charles tells his parents about the horrible conditions at the 4077th. In “Change Day,” he tries to rip of South Korean civilians when the military introduces new money. In”The Merchant of Korea,” he lends B.J. money, only asking for a few small favors in return. In “The Smell of Music,” he feuds with Hawkeye and B.J. by insisting on practicing the French horn in the Swamp. And in “Dr. Winchester and Mr. Hyde,” he starts taking amphetamines to stay one step ahead of the rest of the camp.

Actor David Ogden Stiers in the MASH episode Fade Out, Fade In

David Ogden Stiers in “Fade Out, Fade In” (Season 6)

Other Charles highlights from include “Major Ego” and “Rally Round the Flagg, Boys” (Season 7), “Mr. and Mrs. Who?” (Season 8), “Operation Friendship” and “The Life You Save” (Season 9), “The Tooth Shall Set You Free” (Season 10), and “Foreign Affairs” (Season 11).

My favorite Charles episodes are those that showcase his kindness and his warmth. He’s arrogant, yes, and occasionally greedy. He can be petty and jealous and rude. But he’s also secretly cares about other people. Episodes like “Dear Sis” (Season 7), in which Father Mulchahy and Radar work together to give Charles the perfect Christmas gift, his old toboggan cap; “Morale Victory” (Season 8), in which he helps a talented pianist come to terms with losing an arm; “Letters” (Season 9), when he writes a heartfelt letter to a little girl who sent him a birch leaf; “Death Takes a Holiday” (Season 9), when he carries on his family’s holiday tradition of donating expensive chocolates; “Sons and Bowlers” (Season 10), when he bonds with Hawkeye; and “Run for the Money” (Season 11), in which he befriends a soldier who stutters.

David Ogden Stiers in The Life You Save (Season 9)

David Ogden Stiers in “The Life You Save” (Season 9)

After the end of M*A*S*H in 1983, Stiers continued acting. He had roles in the popular miniseries North and South and North and South, Book II on ABC in 1985 and 1986. Between 1986 and 1988, he appeared in eight made-for-TV movies based on the Perry Mason legal drama. In 1991, Stiers voiced Cogsworth in the animated movie Beauty and the Beast, beginning a successful career as a voiceover artist, voicing characters in movies like Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame as well as TV shows like Justice League, Lilo & Stitch: The Series, Teacher’s Pet, and Regular Show. He also lent his voice to a number of video games.

In 1998, he had a regular role on the ABC sitcom Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, although his character was soon phased out. His next regular TV role was Love & Money, a short-lived CBS sitcom that aired briefly during the 1999-2000 season. From 2002 to 2007, Stiers had a recurring role on The Dead Zone as well as a recurring role on Stargate: Atlantis from 2006 to 2007.

Stiers made numerous guest appearances over the last several decades on shows like Alf, Murder, She Wrote, Matlock, Wings, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Cybill, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, The Trouble with Normal, Touched by An Angel, Frasier, Worst Week of My Life, and Rizzoli & Isles.

 David Ogden Stiers in Goodbye, Farewell and Amen (Season 11)

David Ogden Stiers in “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” (Season 11)

Stiers earned two Emmy nominations for his work on M*A*S*H (in 1981 and 1982). A third nomination followed in 1984 for a role in the NBC miniseries The First Olympics: Athens 1896.

According to the Internet Movie Database, he last acting credits were in 2017: a movie called Neil Stryker and the Tyrant of Time and a TV movie called The Joneses Unplugged. Outside of acting, Stiers was also a talented conductor. He served as resident conductor for the Newport Symphony Orchestra in Newport, Oregon.

Update – Scriptwriter Ken Levine has posted a tribute to David Ogden Stiers at his blog. “David rarely gave interviews about his time on MASH,” Levine writes. “He didn’t want to just be remembered for that show. In documentaries and articles he always declined to participate. But I know he was intensely proud of his contribution to MASH.”

Sunday, March 4th, 2018 Update #1 – Music Director Adam Flatt of the Newport Symphony Orchestra has released the following statement:

All of us at the NSO are heartbroken. David Ogden Stiers was a generous, loving, and inspirational friend and pillar to our orchestra, and, indeed, to all of us individually. Our orchestra would not be here if it weren’t for his great support and inspiration over three decades. His depth of musical feeling, love for our musicians, and charisma made his performances soar when he was on our podium. We will all work to keep David’s spirit alive in all of our performances.

Sunday, March 4th, 2018 Update #2 – Alan Alda sent the following tweet earlier today:

If you can’t read it, here’s what he wrote:

David Ogden Stiers. I remember how you skateboarded to work every day down busy LA streets. How, once you glided into Stage 9, you were Winchester to your core. How gentle you were, how kind, except when devising the most vicious practical jokes. We love you, David. Goodbye.

And Jeff Maxwell, who played Igor, left the following comment at Ken Levine’s blog:

Class. Dignity. Talent. Humor. Wisdom.

Sharing the tears.

35 Comments

  • Seoul City Sue says:

    This news has been a punch in the gut. Of all the people, DOS was the last person I would have thought would leave us so soon. What a wonderful character he brought to life. A supreme talent and a magnificent presence. He will be missed.

    RIP Major Winchester!! A true gentleman right to the very end.

  • mspence says:

    Charles was ultimately able to fit in, unlike Burns, and Stiers really had a handle on the character. RIP.

  • James Shealey says:

    He fit into the part perfectly. Especially love the episode where he is the prankster. He will be missed R.I.P. DOS “Charles!”

  • Andrea says:

    I’m very saddened to hear this. 75 is no age at all these days. David never put a foot wrong as an actor. He was always very watchable even in mediocre fare such a Doc Hollywood.
    He really shined in M*A*S*H though.

  • Crabapple Cove says:

    He was VERY talented at voice work. Years ago I checked out a Tom Clancy audio book (I forget which title) for a long road trip. The book kept me entertained and awake throughout the long journey. After the first couple of hours I stopped for a break and finally looked at the audio book case to see that the narrator was Mr. Stiers. He did a brilliant job of gliding between the voice of the narrator and the various character voices in the book.

    As for M*A*S*H, Dear Sis is probably my favorite Winchester episode. RIP Mr Stiers.

  • Ferret Face says:

    Such sad news.

    I know that he never really wanted to talk about MASH in interviews, so he wouldn’t be defined by a single role, and in a way I’d say he both succeeded and failed, at least from my perspective. By that, I mean that he really did have a respectable career over the years,with a number of note-worthy roles. However, when trying to see just how talented he was as an actor, you really don’t have to look much further than his role as Charles Emerson Winchester III. Such a wonderfully dynamic character, and he did such a wonderful job with it.

    • Craig Berry says:

      I think that’s the paradox of someone like Stiers. He’s so good at inhabiting a character that it defines his career. No matter what he did going forward he was always going to be Major Winchester. That’s the good and bad of it.

  • Craig Berry says:

    I was saddened to hear of Mr. Stiers’ passing. I thought he did an excellent job of adding depth to a character that was originally so one- dimensionally arrogant, gradually softening the rough edges while not losing the essence of the character.

    It seems with TV actors it feels different when we lose them versus losing a great movie actor. With people like these, it feels more personal because we developed an affinity for them through them being in our presence weekly (or daily, in the case of all the MASH reruns). RIP DOS.

  • 007 says:

    Oh man so sad. When I came to the mash4077tv page and saw his face on the top article picture, I knew right away. Like Sue said, this was one of the last of the M*A*S*H actors I expected to pass and another truly sad passing of a great. This is near and dear to my heart as Charles was one of my favorites on M*A*S*H and also had a guest role on another show very important to me, Star Trek: The Next Generation. He also voiced a character on the original Beauty and the Beast, which is one of the best animated movie ever made.

    This is truly sad, again, and many condolences to his family. Our M*A*S*H family is leaving us folks. More than half the main cast have passed.

  • Doc Funnypants says:

    I’m stunned by the news of David Ogden Stiers’s passing. He really made M*A*S*H worth watching. May I suggest the next topic for the Monday discussions be “What was your favorite Charles Winchester line of dialogue”.

    Farewell, Cape Cod, Farewell, Harvard Yard, Farewell, Baked Scrod.

  • Terry says:

    Wonderful memories to remember him by on my DVD collection, but what sad news knowing we lost another MASH actor. The good lord has acquired a thoracic surgeon to join Blake, Potter, Trapper, Burns and Father Mulcahey in Mash 407Heaven
    RIP David Ogden Stiers

  • Daniel says:

    RIP David

  • Scott Bolyard says:

    A mixed-media art piece I made 12 years ago was named for a phrase Winchester said. The piece’s title is: “The Well of Despair”. When Winchester received his toboggan cap from home, he uttered these words. Mr. Odgen Stiers delivered his lines with such love that it stuck with me and the sentiment stayed with me and resurfaced during a dark time in my life. The painting that came from me during this darkness helped pull some of the poison out of my soul.

    Thank you, David.

  • Dustin Hoffmann says:

    I was so saddened to have hears the news of DOS passing. Winchester is one if my favorite two characters on the show. Potter being the other. Ironically, I’m going through one of my 2 annual watching of the series, and had finished watching “Mr. And Mrs. Who?” Saturday night. Waking up to hear he was gone, was a shot in the gut. May he rest in peace.

    • Nanna-Eline Baarnes says:

      Iam a 12year old girl in Norway,and I have just seen the hole MASH serie.MASH gives us a realistic picture of the great job they did during the war.The humor is great,and the world today need more of that kind.I love it,and all the caracters are absolutely great.Winchester is of course one of my favorite.
      ,
      David Ogden Stiers was very talented,and i am quite impressed by the way he speaks with Boston accent.The world will never be the same without persons like David,but they will get more fun in Heaven now!

  • BDOR says:

    It’s really a bizarre and eerie coincidence, because I had been thinking about DOS lately, what with him being the only cast member not to participate in the interviews for those HOLLYWOOD REPORTER articles about GFA’s 35th anniversary – even though I know he doesn’t want M*A*S*H to be the only thing he’s remembered for, for me, he’s not, because he was also one of the voices of my childhood, and that’s how I actually became familiar with his name before I started watching M*A*S*H. Cogsworth in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, the Archdeacon in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, Governor Ratcliffe in POCHAHONTAS, Jumbaa in LILO & STITCH, and his ability to nail accents always impressed me. I remember when he came out the closet in 2009, he said Disney was a very LGBT-friendly studio to work for (for the most part), while also adding that he was very comfortable voicing animated characters, where he was allowed a little room for some flamboyancy.

    It’s really a shame to see him pass on. And it’s sad to think that now more than half of the main cast is no longer with us at this point. 🙁

  • Jon says:

    As I’ve stated in a few places, Maj. Winchester is my favorite MASH character, and Mr. Stiers helped make him lovable in a way that could’ve been impossible in a lesser actor’s hands. He also proved very versatile in a range of roles from John Cusack’s character’s dad in “Better Off Dead” (strangely enough the only place where I ever recall him wearing a hairpiece) and the eccentric customer in TWO GUYS, A GIRL, AND A PIZZA PLACE. (His character disappeared with the pizza place.) I’ve also gotten to see him not too long ago in a couple MTM reruns as the station manager, which got him the part as Maj. Winchester. RIP, Mr. Stiers!

  • penguinphysics says:

    What I found somewhat creepy was that during the latest mini-marathon of MASH I was watching “The Life You Save” and my phone chirped. When I looked down, I saw the announcement that Mr. Stiers had passed and a chill went up my spine.

    Farewell Major Winchester, Leland Barton, Dr. Timicin, Cogsworth, Al Meyer, and all of the others you have so brilliantly played.

  • Doug says:

    I am a big Star Trek fan, and I’ve been a fan of MASH since I started watching in 75 or 76. So I was more than pleased when he played the character of Dr. Timicin in the TNG episode Half A Life, opposite Majel Barrett Roddenberry as Lwaxana Troi. For the most part, the Lwaxana character was comic relief, but she began to evolve beyond that with that episode. Both of them had great performances, especially when he revealed that he was going home and end his life according to his people’s custom. I’d like to think that his skill brought out the best from Majel, and made this episode a cut above.

    By the way, has anyone ever noticed that the name of Charles Emerson Winchester is very Bostonian–Charles (River) Emerson (College) Winchester (a suburb). I guess you have to be from the area to get it!!! 🙂

    • Jon says:

      Thanks for sharing this link. I already have my DVR set to record my favorite Winchester episode, “Morale Victory”, tomorrow.

      • Jon says:

        I’m also recording “The Smell of Music” today, which is to me the funniest of his episodes aired this week.

  • Chris Juhan says:

    I am sad to have heard of David’s passing. My favorite scene was his soliloquy about not breaking the spirit of a Winchester. I was talking wirh a nonMASHER and explained an old episode has Blake and Trapper. Burns, Potter, BJ is the transition, and Winchester makes the newer ones.

  • David G. says:

    And just like that, we are now down to less than half of the regular cast members of “M*A*S*H” still being with us.

    I’ve long considered DOS as one of those very distinctive performers — in a category with Wallace Shawn and Christopher Lloyd — where you just knew that you were going to be witnessing something delightfully special in any role he was going to do when appearing on the screen. Say what you will about Alan Alda or anyone else, but Stiers was the best ACTOR among the cast. A portrayal by Stiers made anything work — voicing a Disney character, sparring against Perry Mason in TV movies, narrating a PBS Reagan documentary … heck, even his completely head-scratcher choice of performing the Martian Manhunter in a justifiably failed “Justice League” TV pilot. Some 25 years ago, I saw Majel Barrett at a Star Trek convention in Seattle, and she told the group, “One day David Ogden Stiers is going to be cast in a role that is going to cause EVERYONE to be completely blown away and realize how greatly talented he is!”

    Oddly, he never got that one role Majel had predicted … and I kept waiting for it, too. Stiers was also the only “M*A*S*H” member whose autograph I could never get through the mail. (He was notorious among collectors for being a non-signer. When he surprisingly autographed some ST:TNG cards a few years ago, I bought about 5 of them on eBay, figuring there was no other way I’d ever be able to get his autograph.) It’s ironic that the man who most avoided his connection with “M*A*S*H” — because he was worried about being thought of for just one role — clearly demonstrated his versatility at being memorable in so many numerous roles … and therefore needlessly distanced himself from his Charles Emerson Winchester days throughout his post-“M*A*S*H” years.

    • dhla says:

      I have a rare DOS signature myself. I won’t post the provenance, but I know it is real and I did not buy it… obtained in the pre-Internet era. A lot of the signatures on eBay for a lot of people are fake. I saw a fake Gelbart signature on eBay last week – his signature is very distinctive. DOS did not like to sign anything, for any show.

    • Trevor Song says:

      Just ran across this website and saw the tribute to DOS. Some of you, but probably not all of you, may know my story through the Facebook group that I posted. Unlike the poster (dhla) who said he wouldn’t post his story about origin of getting his autograph, I will post the story about mine because after all, DOS is now gone and he’s not going to do another autograph for anyone anymore. To give you the short version for those that don’t know, I tried a long time ago to get in touch with DOS (back in 1996). I didn’t understand his signing habits and still don’t know why he didn’t like to do it for the most part. After something like three letters I think, he never answered so I gave up at that time. So in 2013, I ran across the Newport Symphony Orchestra website and saw an autograph item they had for sale, only to be a bit satisfied with it because it was a little too large for my liking. So I contacted the NSO and requested that if I gave a $100 donation to them, would I be able to get DOS’s autograph. They approached him and he agreed that would be fair. Took months – but in the end, it was well worth it. He gave me a one of a kind signed photo PLUS a personal note signed on a card. If I knew all along this was the way my MASH collection was going to end, then I couldn’t have asked for a better ending for it. I tried very hard to ask the NSO if I could spread the word about donations for an autograph, but they said he didn’t like signing and they would appreciate it if I didn’t tell anyone. So I kept that a secret until he passed away.

      But apart from my journey to get the cast member’s autographs, it just shows me that DOS had a real passion with the NSO organization and he would do what he could to make it benefit from his celebrity status – even if this meant signing autographs that he apparently didn’t like to do. With that said, I haven’t seen people talk about an experience remotely similar to mine. I feel very fortunate that I was able to be one of the very few people who was able to get in touch with him.

      With that said, I don’t believe a lot of these DOS autographs being posted in many places are authentic – especially those that bear his name on cast signed stuff.

      • dhla says:

        Any other tough ones in your collection? Two that I would be interested in are Karen Philipp and Tim Brown, primarily because they were in the pilot, but other than that, I’ve always felt I had a very complete collection… although no Jeff Maxwell, and I know he posts here.

      • Trevor Song says:

        Hello dhla,

        Not sure if we are communicating already through that autograph forum, but to answer your question, no, I have not had any desire to go after the people who were in the pilot episode. I just went after the core cast through the run of the series only.

        Anyway, if you didn’t know where to find my collection of MASH autographs, here they are:

        https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151643685690196.1073741830.600910195&type=1&l=0050748280

      • dhla says:

        Trevor – thanks for sharing. I don’t know about the autograph forum and hadn’t seen your collection. I started collecting about 10 years before you (right around the end of the series in 1983). I have a lot of the same 8x10s, personalized to me.

        My collection was all pre-internet. I had written DOS a few letters and of course heard no reply. I had gotten all of the rest. I met someone who was very friendly with DOS’s lawyer and she volunteered to get it for me – and she did. I wound up getting a personalized autograph on an 8×10, as you did. I actually met him years later and when I introduced myself all he said to me was, “I know.” He seemed aloof – maybe it was shyness. It definitely felt intimidating.

        Anyway – congrats on your collection and thanks for sending the link.

      • Trevor Song says:

        The photo I got from DOS was not an 8×10, but something like half the size. It was really interesting to me he went through the effort to do this instead if getting a standard publicity 8×10 that most actors typically have many of. But I guess you can say that when someone like DOS, who didn’t sign a whole lot to people, goes through great lengths to make a one of a kind photo happen for me and as well as sending me a nice personal card signed on his stationary, it makes the experience very special. I wish other fans could share a similar one about him, but I get the feeling that there might not be that many at all that can tell the same story. Kind of a shame he didn’t see eye to eye on fans regarding the autograph requests so much, but I said elsewhere, he probably had his reasons.

  • Bryan Bjork says:

    To paraphrase one of his lines as Maj Winchester…hope no one else has said this already but…it sums up his career I think…
    ….”He did one thing at a time, he did it very well….and now he has moved on…”. RIP Major…you will be missed.

  • Luv4Rosie says:

    The Massachusetts Institute of snobbery will never be the same again!..RIP Charles.

  • Aaron Handy III says:

    Lots…and lots and lots and lots…of the old 4077th is dying off…

    This makes it, what, 7 members now? McLean Stevenson, Larry Linville, Allan Arbus, Harry Morgan, Wayne Rogers, William Christopher and now David.

  • Matthew Lennartz says:

    To a great actor and consummate professional in his craft: Mr. Stiers, thank you for sharing your gift with us selflessly and without complaint. Truly, you have succeeded in drawing me into our character on MASH as a sense of loathing occurred within me every time your snobbish character entered a scene. Well done. God bless and keep you as you make your way through the pearly gates to a life everlasting.

  • Mo says:

    I had no idea until a few years ago that he conducted orchestras! The fact that the musical knowledge he brought to his character was real blew my mind. I watch the eps in a new way now!

    I am of the opinion that he never got the level of recognition he deserved. I wish I had been able to see him conduct. What a gifted man he was, and in so many ways.

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