William Christopher, the actor best known for his role as Father Francis Mulcahy on the hit series “M*A*S*H,” and its spinoff AfterMASH, died on Saturday at his home in Pasadena, California He was 84.
The cause was cancer, his agent, Robert Malcolm, said. He added that Mr. Christopher had received the diagnosis a year and a half ago and had responded well to treatment until recently.
Christopher was born in Evanston, Illinois, in a family believed to be descendants of Paul Revere. He spent his youth in several of Chicago’s northern surburbs, including Winnetka, where he attended New Trier High School. Christopher graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut with a B.A. in drama, focusing on Greek literature. While at college, he participated in fencing, soccer, and the glee club, and was initiated as a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity.
Christopher met his future wife, Barbara, on a blind date. They married in 1957 and the couple adopted two sons, John and Ned.
Christopher moved to New York and appeared in a variety of regional productions and later a number of off-Broadway productions such as The Hostage at One Sheridan Square. His Broadway debut came in Beyond the Fringe, a British revue, acting alongside Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.
Christopher left New York City for Hollywood to attempt to gain work in television where he guest-starred in several well-known series, including The Andy Griffith Show, Death Valley Days, The Patty Duke Show, and The Men from Shiloh. He made several appearances on Hogan’s Heroes, That Girl, and played Private Lester Hummel on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. from 1965 to 1968.
In 1972, Christopher gained the role of Father Mulcahy in the television series M*A*S*H when the actor who was first cast in the role, George Morgan, was replaced after a single appearance in the pilot episode.
Immediately following M*A*S*H, Christopher continued the role for the two seasons of the short-lived spin-off AfterMASH.
In feature films, Christopher performed in The Fortune Cookie, The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell, The Shakiest Gun in the West, With Six You Get Eggroll, and Hearts of the West. He had parts in telefilms including The Movie Maker, The Perils of Pauline, and For the Love of It. With Six You Get Eggroll is notable for fans of M*A*S*H, as Jamie Farr appears along with Christopher five years before they co-starred in the series, both playing hippies.
After gaining attention for M*A*S*H, Christopher appeared in various other television series, including Good Times (as the military doctor examining J. J. Evans) and Murder, She Wrote, and made multiple guest appearances on The Love Boat. In 1998, he guest-starred as a priest in an episode of Mad About You. He also remained active in the theater, including a tour of the United States in the mid-1990s with Farr, performing Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple on stage. In 2008–09, he toured with Church Basement Ladies.
Christopher, whose son Ned has autism, devoted much of his spare time to the National Autistic Society, doing public service announcements to bring attention to autism. In 1985, he and his wife Barbara wrote Mixed Blessings, a book about their experiences in raising Ned.
He had been diagnosed with cancer about 18 months earlier, according to his New York-based agent, Robert Malcolm.