‘M*A*S*H’ star Alan Alda overcame childhood struggles, now battles Parkinson’s

Considered a Hollywood treasure thanks to his role as Hawkeye Pierce on the much-loved TV show “M*A*S*H,” Alan Alda is also admired for overcoming many childhood struggles on his road to success.

The now 86-year-old actor, director, and writer gained international fame playing the wisecracking doctor Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce in the long-running TV show.

Sadly, he’s now battling Parkinson’s disease, and recently, he revealed some of the biggest challenges that come with the condition.

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The wartime comedy and drama M*A*S*H, which ran from 1972 to 1983, is one of the highest-rated shows in U.S. television history and its final episode remains one of the most-watched finales of any television series.

Alan Alda ended up winning a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Television Series six times for his part in the beloved show.

Despite coming from a showbiz family the highly-rated actor’s childhood was one of many upheavals, struggles, and trauma, which began at a young age.

Born in the Bronx in 1936 Alan spent his childhood with his parents traveling around the United States in support of his father’s job as a performer in burlesque theatres. His father Robert Alda (born Alfonso Giuseppe Giovanni Roberto D’Abruzzo) was an actor and singer, and his mother Joan Browne was a homemaker and former beauty-pageant winner.

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In his memoir, “Never Have Your Dog Stuffed — and Other Things I’ve Learned,” Alan revealed that his father often spent many nights away from home working and his mom struggled with her mental health.

During the 40s and 50s mental illness was a taboo subject with very few resources to help so many families were left to deal with it alone.

“How much easier it could have been for my father and me to face her illness together; to compare notes, to figure out strategies. Instead, each of us was on [our] own,” he wrote in his 2005 memoir.

He recalled a traumatic childhood memory of when he was just six years old and had stayed up with his mother while his father was working late.

When Robert got home, his wife accused him of sleeping with another woman. The argument led to Alan’s mother attempting to stab his father with a paring knife. Before anyone was harmed, Alan grabbed the knife from his parents and rammed it into the table, bending the point.

Alan Alda

He admits that weeks later when he mentioned it to his parents they denied all knowledge of the incident and his mother said he had imagined it.

The following year Alan was diagnosed with Polio, a disabling and life-threatening disease.

“I got it when I was 7,” he said to AARP magazine. “I had a stuffy nose at Warner’s movie theater—honking the whole evening. I couldn’t clear my nose. When I got home, I threw up, and my legs were unsteady. The next day, I had a stiff neck. I couldn’t sit up in bed.”

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Astonishing recovery

Alan spent two weeks in hospital and then six months of painful therapy which involved wrapping his arms and legs with hot towels to help increase the blood flow and combat the muscle weakness that could be caused by the disease.

“I had nearly scalding blankets wrapped around my limbs every hour,” Alan recalled. “It was hard on me. It was harder, I think, on my parents, who couldn’t afford a nurse and had to torture me themselves. It’s always better to pay somebody to torture your kid.”

Thankfully the treatment worked and Alan made an astonishing recovery with no sign that he had ever had the disease.

As well as the many traumas and obstacles he overcame Alan had an unconventional childhood where he watched burlesque shows from a young age and made his first stage debut as a baby.

Alan Alda and Meryl Streep in New York City, 1979 / Getty Images)

He writes in his memoir of the constant traveling he did with his parents so his father could sing with the burlesque troop and sat and watched the raunchy shows as a toddler sometimes five times a day.

Alan also shared in his memoir that when he was two years old, his father had posed him with a tobacco pipe for a newspaper to get publicity for the burlesque club where he worked.

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