Gary Burghoff (born Gary Rich Burghoff on May 24, 1943 in Bristol, CT) is an American Actor. He is best known to TV audiences for his portrayal of Corporal Walter Eugene "Radar" O'Reilly in the 1970 film M*A*S*H as well as for seven seasons on the TV series. He also appeared as a semi-regular panelist on the classic CBS Game Show Match Game in the 1970s.
A native of Bristol, Connecticut, Burghoff studied tap dance and became a drummer, despite having a congenital deformity of three fingers on his left hand. He gained early experience acting with the Belfry Players of Williams Bay, Wisconsin. In 1967, he originated the role of Charlie Brown in the original Off-Broadway production of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. He was also the drummer for a band called the Relatives in 1968. Actress Lynda Carter was the band's lead singer. The group opened at the Sahara Hotel and Casino lounge in Las Vegas, Nevada, and played there for three months. He and Carter remained friends, and she helped cast him in an episode of her later hit series The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, in a 1978 episode titled "The Man Who Wouldn't Tell".
In 1970, Burghoff made his feature film debut in Robert Altman's M*A*S*H . Although several actors from the original film made guest appearances in the television series, Gary was the only actor cast as a regular, continuing in the role of Radar O'Reilly; the TV version made its debut on September 17, 1972 on CBS. Although he ostensibly played the same character on television, Burghoff has cited differences in the portrayal as he stated in an interview that he created Radar as a lone, darker and somewhat sardonic character, kind of a shadowy figure. He also stated that he continued these qualities for a short time until he realized that the TV M*A*S*H characters were developing in a different direction from the film characters. It became a group of sophisticated, highly educated doctors (and one head nurse) who would rather be anywhere else and who understood the nature of the 'hell hole' they were stuck in. And with the help of show creator Larry Gelbart's help, Burghoff began to mold Radar into a more innocent, naïve character as contrast to the other characters.
Playing the character of Radar has earned Gary six Emmy Nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series and in 1977, he won his first Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor but was unable to attend the ceremony as his M*A*S*H co-star Alan Alda accepted the award on his behalf.
After seven seasons, Burghoff parted ways with the show because of burnout and a desire to spend more time with his family. He returned to the series the following year to film a special two-part farewell episode titled "Goodbye Radar." On the subject of his departure, Burghoff said, "Family, to me, became the most important thing... I was not available as a father because of my work. That doesn’t stop when the work stops. Whenever you go out as a family, you’re always torn from family to deal with public recognition."
As originally conceived, "Goodbye Radar" was supposed to be the final episode of the seventh season but at the behest of CBS, it was expanded into a double episode for the November sweeps the next season. Burghoff's co-star Mike Farrell persuaded him to stay on the show, citing the lackluster careers of their former M*A*S*H co-stars Larry Linville and McLean Stevenson after their departures; Burghoff said no and left.
Gary also frequently appeared as a semi-regular panelist on Match Game in the 1970s; he was the stand-in for regular Charles Nelson Reilly beginning in late 1974 when Reilly took time away to appear in a Broadway play. Burghoff appeared in 248 episodes of Match Game through its daytime run, syndicated run, and the nighttime version of the show: 215 episodes daytime, 18 episodes on Match Game PM (nighttime), and 15 episodes during the syndicated version.
In addition to his frequent appearances on Match Game, Burghoff also appeared as a panelist on the game shows Tattletales, Hollywood Squares, and Super Password. His M*A*S*H character Radar O'Reilly was spun off into an unsold TV show called W*A*L*T*E*R. Gary also appeared in guest-starring roles on shows such as The Love Boat and Ellery Queen. In the 1980s he became the TV spokesman for BP gasoline and IBM computers.
He is also a self-taught amateur wildlife painter who is also qualified to handle injured wildlife in California. He's also worked as a professional jazz drummer, heading the trio The We Three (in the M*A*S*H episode titled "Showtime," Radar is seen playing a solo on the drums; it is a misconception that the sound was dubbed in, as it was Burghoff's actual performance). Burghoff is also the inventor of (and holds a patent on) the "Chum Magic", a fishing tackle invention that attracts fish toward the user's boat. His other inventions include a toilet seat lifting handle and a new type of fishing pole.
Burghoff has married twice, first to Janet Gayle from 1971 to 1979 and they had one child together. In 1985, he married his second wife, Elisabeth Bostrom; they had two children and divorced in 2005.