Tribute to a unique TV character

A t the end of every calendar year, TV networks put together montages of all the celebrities who died during that year.

That gives us that one final chance to reflect on the impact those people had on our lives (if any), or in some cases to become aware for the first time that someone passed. My wife and I saw such a montage last week, and wow, was it long.

It’s safe to say that every year a significant number of celeb’s die, but it’s also safe to say that a lot more of them than usual did in 2016. But perhaps the last one to go was a man who touched a whole lot of lives for a long time: William Christopher – a.k.a. Father Francis Mulcahy from the CBS program, M*A*S*H.

At the age of 84, Christopher died without much fanfare on Dec. 31 at his home in Pasadena, Calif.

When I read that, one of those moments ensued where you just kind of stop and think, “wow.”

I didn’t watch M*A*S*H much during its highly celebrated, award-winning run as a current show from 1972 to 1983. But as time went by, I became a huge fan while watching it year after year during its hugely popular run in syndication.

In my estimation, Hawkeye Pierce, Sherman Potter, Radar O-Reilly, Max Klinger and Major Charles Emerson Winchester III were some of the best-ever television characters – whether from a dramatic show or comedy. But the show featured many other really good characters, too, including good ol’ Father Mulcahy.

Christopher worked on plenty of other TV projects before and after M*A*S*H, and also made a few appearances in films, but Father Mulcahy is without question the role he’s most associated with and will be best remembered for. While the character may have had a slightly lesser role on the show than some of the others, his presence was very often integral and crucial to the overall scheme and atmosphere of the program. Heck, let’s face it: He was one of the few level heads in the 4077 th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. He was like this rock of peace and calm in an environment of confusion, terror and chaos.

How could anyone not be captivated by Mulcahy’s soft, steady voice? How would anyone not be at least somewhat inspired when he got a little mad and his delivery became stern and steely?

Yep, Christopher was more than once a central figure in memorable and moving M*A*S*H moments. He was a truly classic supporting actor in a role with rare effect and impact.

Every now and then, Father Mulcahy would say something quite poignant. Like he once said, “a faith of convenience is a hollow faith.” That’s well put, and I think that’s a statement that packs a lot of punch in a world where Bible verses about that subject have largely come to fruition.

As I said, 2016 was a heck of a year for dying celebrities. And the last one to go was a classic.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. His columns are posted online at www.houstonherald.com. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com

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