McLean Stevenson appeared on Cher's variety show to reassure fans after ''Abyssinia, Henry''
The appearance was a rumor for years, until a clip resurfaced in the 2010s.
The third-season finale M*A*S*H episode "Abyssinia, Henry" was an absolute bombshell not only for M*A*S*H fans but for television audiences around the world.
The shocking ending to the episode — spoilers ahead — was unprecedented at the time. The 4077th crew wistfully wishes Henry goodbye after he gets an honorable discharge and see him off in his helicopter. Then, during the last moments of the episode, a visibly shaken Radar enters the operating room. In a choked voice, he delivers a line that still lives in TV history: "I have a message. Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake's plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan. It spun in. There were no survivors."
These days a shocking character death on TV is much more common — heck, The Walking Dead thrived on an "anyone can die" principle — but back then it just wasn't done. Viewers sent hundreds of letters expressing both outrage and gratitude for how the storyline played out. Gene Reynolds defended the decision, saying that "Not everybody, not every kid gets to go back to Bloomington, Illinois... the premise of our show was the wastefulness of the war."
A little under two months later, McLean Stevenson made an appearance on a variety show and made lighthearted fun of his character's demise.
"Our special guest," Cher said in the May 1975 episode of her CBS show Cher, "who we're all happy that he could be here with us tonight, he used to play Col. Henry Blake on M*A*S*H, and he was recently reported missing in action."
The camera then cut to Stevenson as Blake, wearing his classic fishing hat, rowing in a smoking raft. With a cheerful wave at the camera he yelled "Hey guys, I'm okay! I'm okay!" before continuing to row.
The clip itself was almost forgotten over time, becoming a piece of lost media. The appearance was a hotly debated rumor among M*A*S*H fans for years. Depending on who you heard it from, it aired on The Carol Burnett Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, or Tony Orlando & Dawn. Other rumors claimed it aired the day after "Abyssinia, Henry."
A M*A*S*H fan blog that's been active since 1999 dug into the urban legend in the early 2010s and was unable to find proof. In 2016, a breakthrough: an anonymous fan had caught the Cher episode when it re-ran in the '90s and had a recording. They offered to send in the video to the blog, and now we can all chuckle at Stevenson's reassurances about Henry Blake. Check out the clip here.