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Radar L*O*V*E
Gary Burghoff, the M*A*S*H star, now at 67 year of age, is still much loved.

If you were alive in the ‘70s and ‘80s – and weren’t living under a rock – you probably recognize the cherubic face of Gary Burghoff, a.k.a. "Radar" O'Reilly, from the hit TV series, M*A*S*H.

Radar

Even if you weren't around a few decades ago, you're probably still familiar with the faces and theme song of the beloved show that is celebrating its 36th anniversary this year.

Burghoff, however, has come a long way since his days helping patch up soldiers with the 4077th compound in Korea. He's had a family, started a new career and made the biggest decision of his life.

Burghoff was born in Bristol, Connecticut to Rodney Burghoff — who worked for a clock company — and his wife Ann, who had been a professional dancer and directed local theatre productions. When he was a high school sophomore his family moved to Delavan, Wisconsin, a farming community outside Milwaukee.

One of his most vivid memories was the day in 1960 when he went to hear a politician speak.

As the candidate stood on the back of a hay wagon, Burghoff raised a shaking 16-year-old hand and asked, "If you are elected to office, what do you intend to do to assure that Negroes and other minorities are equal under the constitution and the Declaration of Independence?"

That was a hard thing to voice back in those tumultuous times. "He looked down at me and his face glowed," Burghoff recalls, "and he said, 'If I'm elected President, one of the first things I intend to do is to write a civil rights act that will once and for all guarantee equality.' It was John Kennedy; he could have been running for alderman for all I knew.

"I often wonder if he remembered that scared, 16-year-old kid who raised his hand when everyone else was asking about farm issues and the economy."

With visions of his name in lights, the 19-year-old aspiring actor headed to the Big Apple. But like so many before him, Burghoff went through a metamorphosis of sorts.

"As a kid, I always felt a religious urge and had a belief, but I turned agnostic when I went to New York as a young man and the ways of the world and the ideas of the world became more dominant than my home life,” Burghoff shares.

After six years as a struggling actor, Burghoff returned to Wisconsin to think about his future.

One night he picked up a Bible and prayed to God for an answer. When he opened it, this is what he found in Ecclesiastes 11:9: "Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart ... " He hopped the next train back to New York City.

Amazingly, the next day a producer offered Burghoff the lead role in the off-Broadway production of You're a Good Man Charlie Brown. It was his big break, and over the course of the next three years he performed the part of Charlie Brown more than 1,000 times.

One of those performances was seen by film director Robert Altman. He offered Burghoff the role of the endearing company clerk, Corporal Walter "Radar" O'Reilly in the hit movie M*A*S*H, a role he continued in the wildly successful TV series.

Burghoff received seven Emmy nominations for his work and won the coveted award for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 1977.

But the pace of filming and the drama of being in the limelight took its toll and Burghoff left in 1979 after seven years on the show That year one chapter of Burghoff's life wrapped up, but another one — a far more significant one — began.

"1979 was my rebirth," he shares. "It was a time period when there was a lot going on in my life and about the time when I was leaving M*A*S*H. I had just gone through 15 years of being passionately devoted to career and it blinded me to everything else in life."

It was also the year he got divorced and his father died.

"[My father] used to say that without the Bible you don't have a foundation," Burghoff says.

“It remembered one specific thing in Scripture: honour your father and mother. I loved my father so much that I went out and bought a Bible and started reading it. I’d read it many other times throughout my life, but I didn’t understand it.”

It wasn't just Christianity that he investigated. Burghoff searched the teachings of various religions for answers and guidance — Jehovah's Witnesses, Hindus, Baptists, Buddhists — everyone.

He finally began to understand that if he was going to find the answer, he had to go beyond blind faith. Burghoff used scientific-like methods to study the Scriptures.

"I learned that God had respect for my intellect, the intellect that He created. One day I finally understood and gave my life to Christ."

Burghoff's life has since been filled with tiny miracles which all add up to a very strong faith.

Since 1992 Burghoff, 67, has been recognized for his talent as a wildlife painter. He started painting in his 50s as a way of leaving a legacy for his children of all of the beautiful things he's seen through the years. It's his way of honouring God for life.

“If you were to ask me if life is always peachy creamy, the answer would be ‘no,’” Burghoff shares. “Life has its pus and downs and we all have to deal with it. But now I deal with it from a different perspective. God never gives you what you want because you want it. He gives you what you need when you need it.”

For Gary Burghoff, there’s now no such thing as a tunnel without a light at the end of it – he has a bright perspective.

“I’m in good hands now,” he says.

Amy Hammond Hagberg is a frequent contributor to publications around the world. Her first book, How Do You Know He's Real: Celebrity Reflections on True Life Experiences with God (Destiny Image Publishers) was released in April 2006. The first in a planned three-book series, it is a collection of testimonies from well-known athletes, musicians and actors on how they know Christ is real. The second book in the series, How Do You Know He’s Real: God Unplugged is geared for teens and young adults and was released in November 2006. She is also the author of My Favorite Christmas (Integrity Publishers), which was also released in November 2006. All can be found on her website: www.amyhagberg.com.

How Do You Know He’s Real: Celebrity Reflections on Christ
Between the covers of this book are testimonies from Christian role models from the worlds of film, sports, and music. The stories are real and powerful, and are presented in a way that believers and seekers alike will find compelling.

How Do You Know He’s Real: God Unplugged
In this book Amy Hammond Hagberg shares the profound real-life journeys and dramatic encounters with the living God by young athletes and musicians.

 

Originally published in Living Light News, December 2007.

 

 
 
 
 

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