SPRINGFIELD, Mo. Gary Burghoff almost never gives interviews anymore. The actor, best known for his role as Cpl. "Radar" O'Reilly in both the movie and television series MASH, is 62 and long retired to private life.
But in an interview earlier this year with Canadian radio talk show host Drew Marshall on Oakville, Ontario's JOY 1250, Burghoff spoke candidly about a decision he made not long after he left MASH.
"Family, to me, became the most important thing," he said of his rationale for exiting the show that defined his career. "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."
Burghoff turned down other offers that followed. Unfortunately, leaving MASH couldn't save his marriage. In the late 1970s, Burghoff moved back to Connecticut, his boyhood home, and began life as a single parent of his 4-year-old daughter.
While dealing with the divorce, Burghoff lost his father. It was a dark time, but it forced him to ask some critical questions.
"My father had said when I was in New York early on struggling as an actor that if you don't know the Bible you don't have a foundation," Burghoff said. "I had told him from an agnostic point of view that the Bible was a very good book, but it wasn't the only book. But after MASH I realized he might have something. I had given my life over to the world instead of to God."
For the next two years, Burghoff pursued an intense study of the Scriptures. It was life-changing.
"When you become that empty vessel that is ready to be filled," he said, "the veil is lifted. You suddenly understand those words. That's what happened. The Bible before was always an enigma to me. But now I could understand it. The Lord says, 'Ask and you shall receive.' And I was asking."
Burghoff's second marriage blessed him with two sons, but his growing faith created a distance between him and his wife.
"I'd married a wonderful woman, but she was not walking the same Christian walk, so there was a great communication gap in the marriage," he said.
When they separated and she moved to California with their sons, Burghoff again put family before his own dreams. Although he had planned to return to his New England roots, he was determined to be a father to his sons.
"My choice was a very easy one," he said. "I'm going to be a father to my kids first. Because that, like my walk with the Lord, is who I am. I'm a daddy."
Taking a stand
Burghoff moved across the country and lived down the street from his estranged wife for 12 years so they could raise their kids together.
"Fathers who don't do that are sacrificing something wonderful," he said. "A divorce is between two people, never between a parent and children. I know the Lord hates divorce, but He hates abandonment, I think, a lot more."
Today, Burghoff enjoys traveling and promoting wildlife-related causes. His wildlife paintings reach a growing and appreciative audience. But spiritually, he keeps two points in focusChristian fellowship and the Word.
"Without the Word," he said, "I'm rootless, I have no foundation. Whenever things seem bleak, I go back to that source. If art is a personal reflection of the beauty you see in life, I want to go to the source, so I go to wildlife. I do the same thing with spiritual beauty."
Scott Harrup is an associate editor of Today's Pentecostal Evangel, the weekly magazine of the Assemblies of God. Drew Marshall is a nationally recognized Christian broadcaster in Canada.