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M*A*S*H Star Harry Morgan Dies

Harry Morgan, MASH, M.A.S.H CBS

Colonel Potter, we salute you.

Harry Morgan, the Emmy-winning actor best known for playing the caustic but beloved commander who oversaw those lovable goofball doctors on CBS's M*A*S*H, died Wednesday. He was 96.

Morgan's son, Charles, confirmed his death to the New York Times, saying the actor had been battling pneumonia.

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With his cutting wit and deadpan quips, Morgan was an instant hit as Col. Sherman T. Potter, a career soldier who assumed command of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital unit in Korea at the start of the seminal series' fourth season after McLean Stevenson's character, Henry Blake, was killed off. Potter quickly earned the respect of Alan Alda's Hawkeye and the rest of the M*A*S*H cutups, known for his wry smile and paternal concern for his squad.

Morgan played Potter for the next seven seasons up through the show's record-setting 1983 finale, the most watched in tube history, and beyond in AfterMash, a short-lived spinoff that lasted little more than a year before it was canceled.

The role nabbed him an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 1980.

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Before becoming a household name with M*A*S*H,  Morgan found early fame essaying Pete Porter in the TV series Pete and Gladys, which ran on CBS from 1960 t0 1962, as well as playing Officer Bill Gannon, the sidekick to Jack Webb's Joe Friday in the 1967 update of Dragnet.

Born April 10, 1915, in Detroit, Morgan had taken an early interest in law while attending the University of Chicago, but after taking some debating classes, changed his mind and plunged into the theater. After learning his trade in summer stock, he made his Broadway debut in the original production of the 1937 play, Golden Boy, opposite a young Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb.

The big screen soon followed with character parts like that of a drifter in 1943's The Oxboy Incident, starring Henry Fonda, and a terrifying thug in 1948's noir classic The Big Clock, with Ray Milland. He also appeared in 1952's High Noon headlining Gary Cooper as well as a number of Anthony Mann's films including 1953's Thunder Bay and 1954's The Glenn Miller Story, in which he played pianist pal Chummy MacGregor to Jimmy Stewart's big-band extraordinaire.

Later notable roles included 1960's Inherit the Wind, in which he played the small-town judge tasked with presiding over the controversial Scopes "monkey trial" concerning the teaching of evolution. 1962's How the West Was Won saw him take on General Ulysses S. Grant while he got to ham it up a decade later opposite Don Knotts and Tim Conway in Disney's The Apple Dumpling Gang.

Despite his long, prolific career on both the big screen and small, it's M*A*S*H that will likely define Morgan's legacy the most.

Morgan is survived by his second wife, Barbara Bushman, three sons from his first marriage, and eight grandchildren.

No word yet on funeral plans.

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