Wayne Rogers, the affable actor who starred as Trapper John in the hit television series “M*A*S*H” in the 1970s, died on Thursday in Los Angeles. He was 82.
The cause was complications of pneumonia, Rona Menashe, his publicist, told The Associated Press.
Dr. John McIntyre, known as Trapper John, was an irreverent Korean War-era Army surgeon who, between life-or-death medical emergencies in a mobile medical unit, liked to relax with martinis, wisecracks and his best friend and fellow surgeon, Hawkeye Pierce, played by Alan Alda.
Years later, Mr. Rogers and Mr. Alda’s characters were named favorite television comedy duo in a TV Guide poll; Mr. Rogers appeared in the series for only three seasons, from 1972 to 1975. He left because of a contract dispute, which was widely believed to be connected to the growing dominance of Mr. Alda’s character. Mr. Rogers was replaced by Mike Farrell as a new sidekick, Capt. B. J. Hunnicut, and the series ran until 1983, when its finale attracted one of the largest viewing audiences in the history of series television.
At 42, Mr. Rogers moved on with his acting career, landing a series lead a year later as a private investigator in “City of Angels.” The show lasted only one season. He found some success in the CBS medical sitcom “House Calls,” which also starred Lynn Redgrave (replaced in the third season by Sharon Gless) and ran from 1979 to 1982.
He later built a successful career as an investor and money manager, appearing regularly as a panelist on the Fox News show “Cashin’ In.” In 1988 and 1990, he appeared as an expert witness before the House Judiciary Committee, advocating the continuation of the Glass-Steagall banking laws. He later blamed the abolishment of those laws for the recession that began in 2008.
William Wayne McMillan Rogers III was born on April 7, 1933, in Birmingham, Ala., the son of a lawyer and a nurse. He graduated from Princeton University in 1954 with a degree in history and enlisted in the Navy. He had planned to go to law school but he was seduced by acting in 1955 while his ship was in Brooklyn, where he attended a friend’s theater rehearsal.
“That is what hooked me — the process,” Mr. Rogers told Emerald Coast magazine in 2010. “You use your mind, body, emotions and all at a very concentrated, high level.”
Too many actors, he added, entered the profession not for the work itself but for the prospect of fame and wealth.
Although feature films were not a major part of his career, he also made his movie debut in 1959, as a soldier in a bar in “Odds Against Tomorrow,” a Robert Wise crime drama shot in New York and starring Harry Belafonte. Mr. Rogers also had a small role as a chain-gang member in the cult film “Cool Hand Luke” (1967) and played a prominent Southern civil rights lawyer in Rob Reiner’s “Ghosts of Mississippi” (1996).
His last film appearance was in “Nobody Knows Anything!” (2003), a comedy about Hollywood screenwriting whose cast included Margaret Cho and Stephen Colbert.
Although Mr. Rogers never appeared on a Broadway stage, he produced half a dozen plays there in the 1980s. They included the original Broadway production of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” (1983), which ran three years; a 1985 revival, with women in the lead roles, of Mr. Simon’s “The Odd Couple”; and Jules Feiffer’s “Grown Ups” (1981).
Mr. Rogers married Mitzi McWhorter, an actress, in 1960. They had two children and divorced in 1983. His survivors include his second wife, the former Amy Hirsh, a television producer; a son, Bill; a daughter, Laura Rogers; and four grandchildren.
In later years, Mr. Rogers recalled “M*A*S*H” fondly and as an unusually creative opportunity. Asked in a KCBQ radio interview in 2012 if he would have liked to explore Trapper John’s emotions more deeply, he agreed because “it makes the character richer.”
But being believable was never a problem, he added, given the show’s depiction of the chaos of war. “In those situations, you could almost do anything, because there was an insanity to it.”
Alan Alda Pens Tribute to Late 'M*A*S*H' Co-Star Wayne Rogers
by Alan Alda
"We were strangers, but we both knew we somehow had to find a relationship like the one the characters we played had," says Alda of first meeting his friend and colleague, who died Dec. 31 at 82.
Wayne Rogers and I had never met before the day we began rehearsing for M*A*S*H. We were strangers, but we both knew we somehow had to find a relationship like the one the characters we played had.
We went out to dinner that night and over a long meal and a bottle of wine, we promised each other that we would give the show everything we had. We both thought it could be more than a sitcom, and we wanted to treat it as seriously as anything we’d ever been asked to do.
Once, after a long day of work, we rehearsed a scene over and over to see if we could make it better. We had already shot the scene and would never shoot it again. We just wanted to see if it could have been better.
We never stopped trying to get better — as individual actors, and as a team. And that brought us together in a way, I think, that neither of us had ever felt before with a fellow actor.
Wayne didn’t like to drive, so when we shot on location in the mountains of Malibu, he would leave his car at my house and I would drive us the hour to the mountains. On the way, I would tell him my dreams and he would interpret them for me. Especially the dreams about acting.
I told him about one in which I was playing a scene in the show and the director asked me to crawl up the side of an armoire and do my lines from there. Then, he made it worse and told me to go the top of the cabinet and play the scene from there. He said he could get a better shot that way, even though I knew there was no reason for me to be on top of an armoire.
Wayne thought about this silently for a couple of miles and then he said, “This is an important dream. Directors are always asking us to do things that are unbelievable, just to accommodate the camera. Your dream is telling us never to do that. We have to remember never to do an armoire.”
And we did remember. From then on, whenever a director asked us to do something we thought cheated reality just a little too much, we’d give each other a look and one of us would quietly say, “Don’t do an armoire.”
Wayne was warm and funny and very, very smart. But, as smart as he was, he never told you what to think. If he disagreed, he just asked you a question that innocently invited you to think about what you thought. Now, what I’m thinking about is him.
I missed Wayne when he left the show, but for decades I could see him whenever we were in the same city. But I miss him now in a new, unhappy way.
We’ll never again be in the same city.