This M*A*S*H episode came as a surprise for fans watching

"Abyssinia, Henry" was a serious episode for the comedy series.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

The episode "Abyssinia, Henry" isn't what anyone ever would have expected from a comedy series. The memorable episode was the final episode of season three and aired in 1975.

M*A*S*H (1972) fans were both pleased and sad to hear the news that Col. Henry Blake, played by McLean Stevenson, had received discharge papers and was headed home to his wife and kids in the hit series.

It was a bittersweet goodbye for many fans, but the moment took a dark turn when Col. Henry Blake boarded a helicopter that was on a path to get him home.

After a long goodbye with all of our favorites in the 4077th, Radar O'Reilly, played by Gary Burghoff, approached the 4077th with some shocking news: Col. Blake's helicopter had been shot down over the Sea of Japan. There were no survivors. 

And just like that, Col. Blake had been killed on his way home from war after spending years of his life being lucky enough to survive it.

Many of us needed to grab tissues for our tears, some of us may have been relieved, but mostly, M*A*S*H fans just wanted to know why.

The final scene of the episode featured a montage of past episodes featuring McLean Stevenson as Col. Henry Blake.

According to a 1975 interview with Austin American-Statesman, CBS and CBS affiliates received phone calls from shocked viewers asking if Col. Blake had really died.

Before the episode "Abyssinia, Henry," it was rare for a comedy series to feature the death of a character — especially one that rocked the country so hard.

The studios weren't the only ones who were getting calls from shocked fans; Producer Larry Gelbart had a number of calls about the script he helped write.

"I have to carefully explain that we didn't kill Mac Stevenson — who left the show of his own choice — we killed Henry Blake, who never existed anyway," Gelbart said. 

But why kill Col. Henry Blake? Why not just send him home to his wife and kids (like many viewers wanted)? 

"Because that happens," Gelbart said. "In war, people get killed. I think more men could understand it because of experiences with that, where a friend would go through the war without a scratch, and then get killed on his way home, or in a car crash two days after being discharged. It was a chance to show that not only faceless extras get killed in wars — that you could lose a close friend."

M*A*S*H was a new type of comedy-drama the country had not seen before and boy, we weren't ready for the type of waterworks the series would give us throughout the 11 seasons. The humor came from the people with personalities who are struggling to create a bearable, human life amid an unbearable war. 

"The most rewarding thing about doing that script was that while TV can, it rarely tries to make you feel. And Tuesday night it did. I think that's something worth doing," Gelbart said.

In 1974, Stevenson left M*A*S*H to pursue his own show titled The McLean Stevenson Show. The series was short-lived and aired shortly after his M*A*S*H departure in 1976.

According to the interview, NBC offered him a great deal that he couldn't pass up at the time. Although Stevenson was ready to leave the hit series, he said that saying goodbye was never easy to do.

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11 Comments

KevinSmith 23 days ago
It showed where the show was heading. You can see the link between this episode and the final eposode, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen".
Feylis 25 days ago
It certainly was a common occurrence. My mom's brother was on leave, home to see the family in the 40s. He went out carousing one night and his car got hit by a train. He made it through WWII only to die on some railroad tracks not a mile from his home.

Moverfan Feylis 12 days ago
The people who lived next door to us when I was a kids had four boys and a girl. They lost the oldest boy to some type of illness, the second one got into crime and the third boy went to Vietnam. His name's on the war memorial behind the library. As far as I know, the two youngest siblings are doing well--the daughter's married with a girl of her own.
AgingDisgracefully 27 days ago
McLean's career move was duplicated by Suzanne, Shelley and David to name a few.
Nothing wrong with ambition.
But only a few get their own CSI for ten years before completely disappearing from the screen.
WilliamJorns 28 days ago
Actually, if you listen to Radar's line at the episode's end, Henry wasn't shot down in the helicopter. Radar actually says, "Col. Henry Blake's plane...was shot down over the Sea of Japan. It spun in...there were no survivors." The implication I got from that was Henry rode the helicopter to a South Korean airbase, then boarded an airplane for the flight over the Sea of Japan. Helicopters back then weren't capable of flying long distances, so Henry would have just used that one as an "air taxi" to make his connection to the airport for his ill-fated flight home.
Rob WilliamJorns 26 days ago
You are correct, it was an airplane, not a helicopter.
Feylis WilliamJorns 25 days ago
That's what I was thinking.
sagafrat69 28 days ago
It's a reminder that a lot of great people don't come home from a war. A fact we should never forget. Also, about the brilliant writing skills of Larry Gelbart. Sadly, one of those rare television episodes that hits a little to close to home for many. I still to this day feel a certain sadness when it's aired. Mainly because we know Trapper is also leaving and we're stuck with Potter and B.J. for 8 long seasons.
You are right, people always seem to forget it was Wayne Roger's last hurrah as well.
By the way, he was a genius at investing in the stock market, people begged him
to manage their portfolios.
harlow1313 28 days ago
I consider this episode to be the series' high water mark.
Rob harlow1313 16 days ago
I agree. This episode and “ Sometimes you hear the bullet”.
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