David Ogden Stiers—best known for his role as stuffy, punctilious Major Charles Emerson Winchester III on the long-running surgical comedy M*A*S*H, and for a number of voice roles in Disney’s vast library of animated films—has died. According to TMZ, Stiers was 75, and had been suffering from bladder cancer
Born in Peoria, Stiers swiftly threw himself into the world of the theater, his training ranging from Julliard and Shakespeare, to doing improvised comedy with Rob Reiner and WKRP In Cincinatti’s Howard Hesseman—a range of skills and tones that served him ably when he signed on for M*A*S*H in the show’s sixth season, in 1978. Slipping into the tony Boston sensibilities of Charles Winchester III, Stiers quickly fell into the show’s rhythms, setting himself at reliably comic odds with Alan Alda’s Hawkeye. Unlike his predecessor, the more openly buffoonish and corrupt Frank Burns, Winchester was allowed to show his character’s more rounded edges on a regular basis, as Stiers navigated between withering condescension, emotional death, and the show’s still-lively air of prankish mischief.
After M*A*S*H (but not, to be clear, as part of AfterM*A*S*H), Stiers took up his expected place as minor TV royalty, portraying any number of guest star and recurring roles on everything from Star Trek: The Next Generation to The Dead Zone to Two Guys, A Girl, And A Pizza Place. Trading on his still intimidating, blustery mien, most of these roles fell somewhere within the stentorian shadow of Charles Winchester, but Stiers was also busy carving out a niche for himself as an accomplished voice actor at Disney.
His biggest role in these behind-the-microphone endeavors came in 1991, when he played a typically fussy talking clock, Cogsworth, in the animated blockbuster Beauty And The Beast. (Ian McKellan played the role in the recent CGI-assisted version.) Stiers would ultimately lend his voice to eight Disney features (and a wide swathe of ancillary materials), appearing in Pocahontas, Atlantis, and Lilo & Stitch (the latter as the enjoyably sociopathic mad scientist, Dr. Jumba, who sets off the movie’s entire plot). The association took at least some toll on his personal life, though; in 2009, when he came out as gay at the age of 66, he noted that part of his hesitancy to speak out was a desire to stay in the company’s good graces.
Stiers worked steadily up through last year; one of his most recent roles was as a recurring character, Mr. Maellard, on Cartoon Network’s Regular Show. For many, though, Stiers has simply been one of those actors who was always there, and always welcome, in their media-viewing lives; a charismatic, deep-voiced presence who served as a regular fixture through decades of TV and films. If you watched television in the ’80s or ’90s, he was a constant, comforting presence, just as his rich voice informed so many of the biggest animated treasures of the last 30 years for the kids who grew up in that era.