Celebrity Deaths

Richard Hooker: The Real Hawkeye Pierce

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Richard Hooker: The Real Hawkeye Pierce

The Korean War lasted about three years, but it took U.S. Army surgeon Richard Hooker (Feb. 1, 1924 - Nov. 4, 1997) 12 years to pen his wartime memoirs. When he finished, the result was the best-selling 1968 book MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors. It spawned not only a hit movie, but also a phenomenally popular sitcom that became a cultural touchstone.

Each version of MASH followed the hilarious and heartbreaking exploits of Capt. Benjamin Franklin Pierce, better known as "Hawkeye," throughout the Korean War. Hooker, whose real surname was Hornberger, based the character on himself and built the novel around his real-life experiences as a field surgeon. Hornberger, who would have turned 90 today, was described as a very good surgeon with a tremendous sense of humor, as was Hawkeye. The author also was known for his quick wit and dry sense of humor, terms that also described  the fictional Hawkeye.

Reality parts from fiction, however, once politics come into play. Hornberger, a dedicated conservative, was shocked to see how his novel changed and grew into an anti-war icon as it went to the big screen and then to television. In a 1996 interview, Hornberger described himself as "a conservative Republican," adding, "I don't hold with this anti-war nonsense." He took particular exception to Alan Alda's work on the series, according to his obituary in The New York Times. He reportedly avoided watching broadcasts, although his family reported that he was a fan of the 1970 Robert Altman movie. According to Hornberger's son, William, his father "liked the movie because it followed his original intent very closely."

After the television series became a hit, several more MASH novels were published to capitalize on the popularity of these characters. None of the novels connected with audiences or found the success of the original, however, and many critics suspect Hornberger was not actually involved in their production but merely lent his name to the franchise. Thankfully, those novels are largely forgotten, and Hornberger is remembered instead for the solid, enduring work he created in the original MASH.

Hornberger died in 1997 from leukemia at 73 after spending years as a thoracic surgeon in Maine. His legacy lives on, for better or worse, through the adventures of Hawkeye and the rest of the team in the 4077th MASH unit.

Written by Seth Joseph. Find him on Google+.

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