Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Disembowel Me, I'll Still Make You Laugh

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Disembowel Me, I'll Still Make You Laugh

Article excerpt

Byline: By Hannah Stephenson

One of the stalwarts of the hit comedy series M*A*S*H has written his life story. Alan Alda tells Hannah Stephenson why he put pen to paper.

Just over two years ago, Alan Alda was filming a science programme in the wilds of Chile when he suffered stomach cramps. They became agonising and his stomach swelled to twice its normal size.

He was carted off down a bumpy mountain by ambulance and, on arriving at the clinic in La Serena, doctors found a life-threatening intestinal blockage requiring immediate surgery.

Slipping in and out of consciousness, Alan was told that if he risked the flight to a larger hospital he might not make it. Decision made: the operation would be done there and then.

When the doctor explained the procedure, Alan said: "Oh, you're going to do an end-to-end anastomosis."

The doctor was amazed he knew what it was, until Alan explained: "I did many of them on M*A*S*H." (although on pieces of foam rubber). The doctor laughed.

"My real illness, it seems, is my compulsion to amuse," he reflects. "Apparently you can offer to disembowel me, but I'll still see if I can make you laugh." He was lucid enough to write a last letter to his wife of 30 years, Arlene, and their three daughters before being wheeled into the operating theatre.

He made a full recovery but the experience was a pivotal point in the life of the 70-year-old actor, writer and director who played the affable surgeon Hawkeye Pierce for 11 years in the hit show.

"I started to look back on all my near-life experiences," he smiles, "and was so fascinated with being alive that when I went back and looked at my earliest memories, I wanted to write a story about this little boy who was trying to figure things out in his life, and work out how I got to where I was in Chile.

"There has been a change. It's a bit like having trouble with your vision and then you put your glasses on and everything snaps into focus.

"In little ways I do things differently. …

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