Major Winchester from 'MASH,' dies

David Ogden Stiers was twice Emmy nominated for his role as Major Charles Winchester on MASH.
David Ogden Stiers was twice Emmy nominated for his role as Major Charles Winchester on MASH.

David Ogden Stiers, best known for his role as the arrogant surgeon Major Charles Emerson Winchester III on MASH, has died.

His agent, Mitchell K. Stubbs, tweeted that the 75-year-old he died on Saturday of bladder cancer at his home in Newport, Oregon.

For his work on MASH, Stiers was twice Emmy nominated for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy or variety or music series, in 1981 and 1982, and he earned a third Emmy nomination for his performance in NBC miniseries The First Olympics: Athens 1896 as William Milligan Sloane, the founder of the US Olympic Committee.

The actor, with his educated, resonant intonations - though he did not share Major Winchester's Boston Brahmin accent - was much in demand for narration and voiceover work, and for efforts as the narrator and as of Disney's enormous hit animated film Beauty and the Beast, he shared a Grammy win for best recording for children and another nomination for album of the year.

He voiced Dr Jumba Jookiba, the evil genius who created Stitch, in 2002's Lilo & Stitch and various spinoffs; once he became part of the Disney family, Stiers went on to do voicework on a large number of movies, made for TV or video content and videogames.

In addition to serving as narrator and as the voice of Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast in 1991, he voiced Governor Ratcliffe and Wiggins in Disney's 1995 animated effort Pocahontas and voiced the Archdeacon in Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Indeed, it was his voice that earned him his first screen credit - as the announcer in George Lucas' 1971 film THX 1138.

Stiers was also known for the eight Perry Mason TV movies he made between 1986-88 in which his prosecuting attorney invariably lost to Raymond Burr's Mason, and more recently he had recurred on the USA Network series The Dead Zone from 2002-07 as the Rev. Eugene Purdy, the chief antagonist to star Anthony Michael Hall's Johnny Smith.

In addition Stiers worked repeatedly for director Woody Allen, appearing in Shadows and Fog Mighty Aphrodite, Everybody Says I Love You and Curse of the Jade Scorpion.

On MASH Stiers' Major Winchester was witty where Frank Burns had been vapid - with his Harvard education, a match for Alan Alda's Hawkeye in the operating room and, unlike Frank, a worthy adversary in the ongoing battle of the pranks in the Swamp. So it was always poignant when an emotional crack opened in his self-satisfied mien.

In the season eight episode Morale Victory, Winchester is proud of saving a wounded soldier's leg, only to learn that the minor injury to the young man's hand is all that matters to him, as he is a concert pianist. The soldier feels he has no reason for living, but in a powerful performance by Stiers, Winchester provides him with piano music written for a single hand and shows him the empathy necessary to save him.

Another time the audience saw a different side to Stier's Winchester came in the ninth-season episode in which he swallows his pride and attempts to curry favour with a general who can send him back to the comforts of Tokyo - but in the end, when the general asks him to testify unjustly against Margaret Houlihan - Winchester declares, "I will not - even for a return to that pearl of the Orient Tokyo - lie to protect you while destroying a friend's career!"

He played Franklin D Roosevelt twice: in J. Edgar Hoover and in Emmy-winning 1989 telepic Day One" about the Manhattan Project. In another esteemed telepic that year, The Final Days, about the Nixon White House, the actor played General Alexander Haig.

David Allen Ogden Stiers was born not in New England but in Peoria, Illinois, though the family moved to Eugene, Oregon, while he was in high school. He briefly attended the University of Oregon, began his professional career at the Actors Workshop in San Francisco, the California Shakespeare Festival and improv group the Committee before heading East and, starting in 1968, attending New York's Juilliard and then joining at launch the Houseman Acting Company, where he was mentored by John Houseman.

Stiers had his musical side, conducting orchestras around the world.

In 2009, the actor revealed publicly that he was gay. He told ABC News at the time that he had hidden his sexuality for a long time because so much of his income had been derived from family-friendly programming, and coming out thus might have had repercussions in the past.

Australian Associated Press