An award-winning stage and TV actor, Ed Flanders guest-starred on many television series starting in the 1970s, perhaps most memorably in a 1972 episode of “M*A*S*H” where he played a director making a documentary about the 4077, only to give up on the project when sabotaged by Hawkeye and Trapper John. He won a Tony award in 1974 for the Broadway revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “A Moon for the Misbegotten” and later an Emmy award for the same role in the 1976 TV production.
Flanders was best known, however, for playing Dr. Donald Westphall on “St. Elsewhere,” one of the senior doctors who not only has to handle the daily grind of St. Eligius, but also is a single father to a young autistic son (Chad Allen). Flanders left the show in 1987 to pursue other projects but returned for two episodes, including the series finale. On his final outing as a regular, he improvised a rambling speech about death and memorably mooned his new boss (Ronny Cox), which aired despite some hand-wringing from NBC executives, per the AP. Clearly a nod to Flanders’ stage work, the Season 6 episode was titled “A Moon for the Misbegotten.”
Flanders sadly dealt with many demons in his personal life. He had been divorced three times, was a recluse who suffered from depression, consumed a lot of alcohol, and was in constant back pain from a 1988 auto accident near his ranch in Denny, California. He died by suicide on February 22, 1995, per People. He was 60.
If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255).