The two actors who played Henry Blake of M*A*S*H eerily died within hours of each other

Both men had heart attacks. And it affected how the families broke the news.

The Everett Collection

M*A*S*H was both a brilliant and acclaimed movie and television series. That's rare. The beauty of having the 4077th portrayed on both the big screen and small screen is that viewers can see different takes on their favorite characters. Well, not Radar. Gary Burghoff played Radar in the film and in the show.

Take Col. Henry Blake, for example. McLean Stevenson is best known for the role on TV, but Roger Bowen originate the role in the Robert Altman flick. There are some similarities — both like to fish and are somewhat bumbling — but some key differences. One survives the Korean War, we are to understand. That movie iteration also happens to wear glasses and act a little more lascivious around the nurses. Stevenson's version talked a lot more about his wife. And, famously, he died at the end of season three after his plane is shot down over the Sea of Japan.

For Bowen, playing Blake was arguably his biggest role. Later, he had a recurring role on The Brian Keith Show (1973–74) and, in the Eighties, coincidentally appeared on House Calls, a medical sitcom starring Wayne Rogers of M*A*S*H.

When Bowen died on 1996, his obituary explained that the man "always considered himself a writer who only moonlighted as an actor." He wrote 11 novels.

On February 24, 1996, The Los Angeles Times reported, "Bowen… died of a heart attack Feb. 16 while vacationing in Florida. He died a week after the heart attack death of McLean Stevenson."

The paper was understandably a bit confused. They merely had to check their old issues from the prior week to remember that Stevenson passed away on February 15. 

"Mr. Stevenson died Thursday [February 15] in a Los Angeles area hospital of a heart attack," his obit read.

Eerily, Stevenson and Bowen passed away from heart attacks, hours from each other, on opposite ends of the country.

The death of Stevenson led the Bowen family to not immediately announce the death of their beloved Roger. The Bowens sat on the news and held back making it public for a week, to not cause confusion in the media. They feared that readers would mistake the two actors for one another.

On another odd note, the newspapers at the time stated that Stevenson had been 66 years old upon his death. He was, according to today's records, 68.

There are other interesting parallels between the two. In the spring of 1983, both men starred in new sitcoms that aired at 8:30 p.m. on ABC. Stevenson headlined the doomed Condo on Thursdays, while Bowen was the lead in At Ease on Fridays, a sort of Sgt. Bilko knock-off.

Both sitcoms were canceled in June of 1983. They aired their final episodes one day apart from each other.

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JosephScarbrough 6 months ago
TV version of Henry wasn't entirely faithful; throughout the first season, he had a mistress in the form of Lieutenant Leslie Scorch, who was among the numerous minor characters who were written off the of the show after that season (Spearchucker Jones, Ugly John, Ho-Jon, Margie Cutler, Barbara Bannerman, Kaplan the Dentist, Boone, etc.) Up until he gets that letter from Lorraine and calls her to learn she had a fling with an orthodontist back home, Henry would still occasionally flirt with and try to bed random nurses in camp, but learning about his wife's fling seemed to set him straight.
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7 months ago
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KirwoodDerby 7 months ago
I just love crazy coincidences like this. I put it in the same file as conspiracies and doppelgängers.
Dennisjs 7 months ago
My cat and my mother in law died on the same day. (Darn it, I really miss that cat!)
JHP 7 months ago
by far THEE saddest ep ever on TV

"Abyssinia Henry"

what is so spooky is that was one of his lines in Private Charles Lamb

JHP 7 months ago
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ELEANOR 7 months ago
He got married (for the third time) and had a child late in life, and he had a James Thurber-type approach to typical problems that most people face. He did not have to stretch very far to do Henry Blake.
ELEANOR 7 months ago
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ELEANOR 7 months ago
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McLean Stevenson (better catch it while you can, before Wiseguy comes sneaking around (wink).
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7 months ago
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Pacificsun 7 months ago
That's kind of stretching the (meaningful?) similarity stuff. But that's okay, it got me to read the story. Dates are dates, and there are 365 of them every year. To hold back on a public announcement, that was the family's choice. As if they didn't think the public (or media) could distinguish a movie role from a television role. Oh well. And networks were always scheduling (or cancelling) new shows, usually at the beginning or end of the traditional season, as they also quite frequently followed trends (or preferences) in programming. Sometimes years it was a big season for sitcoms, and others for dramas. So cast are the opportunities for actors!! And more than often than just one network has been known to steal a story idea from the competition. Hardly true coincidences.

It's sad that both talented men are gone, with gratitude to the enjoyment they provided their audiences. But let's give each one the individual respect and acknowledgment they're due.
Michael Pacificsun 7 months ago
Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson died on the same day, Jan 28, 2016, both aged 74.

The announcement of her death came at least a week later than Paul's.

They were both founding members of Jefferson Airplane, she left after about a year (and one album), replaced by Grace Slick.

I think it was even said that family waited. She would have been a footnote to Paul's death otherwise.
Pacificsun Michael 7 months ago
Well that's more of a real coincidence, and I can understand the family's hesitation.
Pacificsun 7 months ago
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Michael 7 months ago
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Jefferson & John Adams died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence!
Jim Henson and Sammy Davis, Jr. died on the same day, May 16, 1990.

Also, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died on the same day, June 25, 2009, but while we all sadly knew Farrah was living on borrowed time, Michael's death was sudden and unexpected that it completely eclipsed Farrah's passing.
Andybandit 7 months ago
This is weird how the two actors passed away close to each other. I never saw the Mash Movie.
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Wiseguy stephaniestavr5 7 months ago
Many critics have called the movie mean-spirited and I tend to agree. Many TV M*A*S*H fans might not like the movie except for those "I like everything M*A*S*H no matter how bad it got" kind of fan. I don't believe I've ever seen the entire movie and don't really care to (I've seen the entire TV series). By the way, there are no asterisks in the movie title even though they were seen on movie posters.
Pacificsun 7 months ago
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It's pretty hard to burst my bubbles. You'd have to be stamping on them for a very long time! And would probably just get tired, first.

Okay, here's the link to the one you found. Maybe new people would want to play.
https://www.metv.com/quiz/which-came-first-the-movie-or-the-tv-show

There's another one tied to the year of the TV or Movie. I don't know why that matters, but maybe they were running out of ideas, and said, here let's give it a twist!

The last quiz idea, which I'm just posting now would be fun this way. The main actor starred in Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Which Movie is he most famous for (action/adventure genre)?

Wish I had the time to put a whole quiz together like that. But maybe there's another fan out there who'd like to get credit for a "Fan Made Quiz." Go for it!
stephaniestavr5 7 months ago
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daDoctah 7 months ago
Another difference between the two portrayals was the Bowen's Blake had a tendency to stutter when caught off-guard. This trait came straight from Heller's novel.
Pigmeat daDoctah 7 months ago
Joseph Heller wrote Catch-22. Richard Hooker wrote M*A*S*H.
Wiseguy Pigmeat 7 months ago
The actual title was "MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors." No asterisks, although the sequel novels printed after the series premiered featured asterisks.
Pigmeat Wiseguy 7 months ago
I stand corrected. However it’s been about 40 years since I read it, so just remembering his pseudonym is an accomplishment for me.
Pacificsun Pigmeat 7 months ago
Good job! Now, can you find your car keys!!!
Barry22 7 months ago
Bowen also played the boss on 'Arnie'.
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Wiseguy cperrynaples 7 months ago
And if he could have played the part, he probably would have stayed with the series to the end and there would have been no Col. Potter character.
Even if they'd wanted to, TV in those decades wouldn't have allowed it. Not directly. You'd have to catch the cues. My favorite is when James T. Kirk is putting his boots back on after doing it with Kathie Brown (Deela) in, "The Wink of An Eye." Gosh, how could he resist her no matter what was going on! LOL! I think he would've too, with Barbara Luna in Mirror, Mirror, except there just wasn't time. But I think with Deela was about as far as they could go in the Sixties.
Pacificsun Wiseguy 7 months ago
I don't think the series would've lasted as long as it did, without Henry Morgan's Potter. There was only so much they could do with Blake. He had drawn that character very narrowly, and he wasn't old enough (meaning the character) to have as much of a meaningful background. The series actually needed a mature (very) viewpoint, perspective to give it a little more depth. People may argue with how the series changed after the original cast. But I think Production was eyeing the long term. They realized the value of syndication and residuals. All those changes actually helped!!
Olivia_Reed Wiseguy 5 months ago
Which would have been fine. Col. Potter became really tedious in the last few seasons. His constant shrieking of epithets related to animal feces wasn't that funny.
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