David Ogden Stiers, best known for his role as the arrogant surgeon Major Charles Emerson Winchester III on “MASH,” died Saturday. He was 75.
His agent, Mitchell K. Stubbs, tweeted that he died of bladder cancer at his home in Newport, Ore.
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 U.S. 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.” He also contributed the voice of the grandfather for the English-language version of Hayao Miyazaki’s 1992 animation “Porco Rosso” and of Kamaji in Miyazki’s classic “Spirited Away” in 2001. From 2011-15 he recurred on Cartoon Network’s “Regular Show.”
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” (in which he played a mysterious hypnotist).
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 favor 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!”
In the busy year of 1985, Stiers also played the father to John Cusack’s hero in the ’80s teen movie “Better Off Dead” and the bitter enemy to Peter O’Toole’s eccentric scientist in “Creator,” while also appearing in ABC miniseries “North and South” as Congressman Sam Greene.
The next year would bring more work in the form of “North and South Book II” — and Stiers would begin a long series of “Perry Mason” telepics in which he played the always-fated-t0-lose prosecuting attorney. There were two of these NBC movies in 1986 and eight overall through 1988.
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 Gen. Alexander Haig.
In addition to his work for Woody Allen, he played a wealthy railroad magnate in the live action Disney film “Iron Will” in 1994, a judge in the 1995 CIA thriller “Bad Company,” starring Ellen Barkin and Laurence Fishburne, and appeared in Frank Darabont’s Jim Carrey vehicle “The Majestic” in 2001.
The actor also continued appearing on television, guesting on shows including “Murder, She Wrote” and recurring on ABC’s “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place” in 1998 as the eccentric Mr. Bauer, who relayed the plots of movies as if they were stories of what had happened to him. He was a series regular on the brief CBS series “Love & Money” in 1999. In 2003 he memorably guested on an episode of “Frasier” in which Stiers played a former research associate of Frasier’s who is so like him and Niles, it has Martin questioning whether he is really their father.
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 made his Broadway debut with simultaneous 1973 revivals of Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters,” in which he played Kulygin; “The Beggar’s Opera,” in which he played Peachum; “Measure for Measure,” in which he played the Duke; and Moliere’s “Scapin,” in which he played Geronte. Kevin Kline and Patti LuPone were also among those who appeared in the three productions. In 1974 he appeared in “Ulysses in Nighttown,” which was briefly staged on the Rialto starring Zero Mostel. Also that year he had a role in the original Stephen Schwartz musical “The Magic Show.”
In 1971 he made his first bigscreen appearance, in the Jack Nicholson-directed “Drive, He Said.”
He soon had a recurring role on the brief Barnard Hughes sitcom “Doc” and guested on “Kojak,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Phyllis,” “Mary Tyler Moore” and “Rhoda” before being cast as Major Winchester on “MASH.” Even during his years on the hit show, he appeared in movies including “Oh! God,” starring John Denver and George Burns; “The Cheap Detective,” with Peter Falk; ventriloquist horror movie “Magic” with Anthony Hopkins; and TV movies including “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” (1979), “The Oldest Living Graduate” (1980), “Father Damien: The Leper Priest” (1980) and “The Day the Bubble Burst.”
In 2009 he returned to Broadway after an absence of many decades to appear in “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.” The following year he appeared in a Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles production of “Much Ado About Nothing.”
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.
Pictured: (Harry Morgan, Loretta Swit, David Ogden Stiers)