LOS ANGELES - McLean Stevenson, best remembered for his role as the laconic, reluctant commanding officer and chief surgeon of CBS television's "MASH" in its early years, has died. He was 66.
Mr. Stevenson died Thursday in a Los Angeles area, hospital of a heart attack, said his agent, Robert Malcolm.
Mr. Stevenson earned an Emmy nomination and a 1973 Golden Globe Award for his work as Lt. Col. Henry Blake, head of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, from its inception in 1972 until 1975.
When Mr. Stevenson opted for more lucrative offers, his character was written out of the show in the heart-rending season closer: Blake finished his hitch and was flying home to Bloomington, Ill., when his plane was lost at sea.
In the fall, Harry Morgan took the reins as Col. Sherman Potter. The series, ranked in the Top 10 for nine of its 11 seasons, ended in 1983.
Mr. Stevenson went on to his own series - "The McLean Stevenson Show," "Hello, Larry" and "Condo." All were short-lived, and he later conceded that leaving "MASH" was the mistake of his career.
"When I left the show, the mistake was not in leaving," he said for a 1991 retrospective called "Memories of MASH."
"The mistake was that I thought everybody in America loved McLean Stevenson. That was not the case. Everybody loved Henry Blake. So if you go and do `The McLean Stevenson Show,' nobody cares about McLean Stevenson."
Mr. Stevenson was born and grew up in Bloomington, Ill., next door to his cousin Adlai, who twice ran for U.S. president.
Originally an assistant athletic director at Northwestern and salesman for hospital supplies and insurance, Mr. Stevenson was 32 when the acting bug bit. He schooled himself by acting in commercials, summer stock and comedy clubs.
When Mr. Stevenson couldn't get roles in Hollywood, he took some comedy sketches he had written to Tommy Smothers and got hired as a writer on "The Glen Campbell Show." He also wrote for the satirical "That Was the Week That Was" and "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," finally moving in front of the camera to act in the sketches he wrote.
Mr. Stevenson was hired as the brainy, urbane boss on "The Doris Day Show" in 1969 and next became a regular on "The Tim Conway Comedy Hour."
Survivors include his wife, Ginny, and two children.