SAG Life Achievement Honoree Alan Alda Calls on Actors to 'Stay Playful'

Alan Alda enjoys some adult refreshment on "M*A*S*H." (CBS)

With a career that has balanced a facility with comedy and drama alongside a drive toward furthering science and human rights causes, Alan Alda received the Screen Actors Guild's Life Achievement Award at the SAG Awards on Sunday night.

And, after an introduction by Tom Hanks, the actor formerly known as Alphonso D'Abruzzo accepted his honor with a blend of those passions.

"The thing is, this comes at a time when I've had a chance to look back on my life and to think about what it's meant to be an actor," said Alda, who last year revealed he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. "When we get a chance to act it's our job, at least in part, to get inside a character's head and to search for a way to see a life from that person's point of view ... and then to let an audience experience that."

"When a culture is divided so sharply, actors can help, at least a little, just by doing what we do," he continued, his hands shaking slightly. "And the nice part is it's fun to do it."

The 82-year-old Alda first rose to fame in the 1970s by setting the template for a new kind of war hero in Capt. "Hawkeye" Pierce on the TV adaptation of the Robert Altman film "MASH." The groundbreaking series ran from 1972 to 1983, and Alda wrote and directed numerous episodes, including a series finale that drew more than 100 million viewers. He remains the only actor to receive Emmy Awards for writing, directing and performing on the same series.

Consistently working over a decades-long career, Alda continues to appear on Showtime's "Ray Donovan" as well as CBS All Access' "The Good Fight."

"I've been training and doing about a dozen things to hold back the progress of Parkinson's, which is pretty, you know, pretty successful," Alda told the Associated Press earlier this week. "I'm still able to work and I do everything else that I do with a full heart."

During the run of "MASH," Alda also appeared on the big screen in Neil Simon's "California Suite" (1978) and "Same Time Next Year" (1978), as well as writing, directing and starring in "The Four Seasons" (1981). He became known for portraying sensitive, progressive-minded characters, and these traits were echoed in his personal life including as an outspoken supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment.

After "MASH," some of Alda's roles toyed with his nice-guy image, including a Hollywood player in Woody Allen's "Crimes & Misdemeanors" (1989) and the president of the United States in Michael Moore's "Canadian Bacon" (1995). In 1996, Alda played an LSD-dealing fugitive alongside Lily Tomlin in the David O. Russell comedy "Flirting With Disaster," and he appeared as a power-hungry senator in Martin Scorsese's 2004 Howard Hughes biopic "The Aviator," a movie that earned him his first Academy Award nomination.

Over the past 20 years, Alda has enjoyed something of a renaissance with his TV roles, which included Emmy-nominated roles on "The West Wing," "30 Rock" and "The Blacklist," as well as appearances on "The Big C" and "Broad City." But his commitment to social causes remained equally prominent.

Fueled in part by his role as host of the PBS series "Scientific American Frontiers" from 1993 to 2007, Alda was a longtime advocate for bringing a greater understanding of advancements in medicine and science to a wide audience. Inspired by Alda's efforts, Stony Brook University in New York renamed a branch of its school of journalism the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, which uses improvisational theater techniques to help scientists better connect with policymakers and the general public.

Onstage at the SAG Awards, Alda wished to share his award with his fellow actors. "My wish for all of us is let's stay playful, let's have fun and let's keep searching," he said. "It can't solve everything, but it wouldn't hurt." 

This article is written by Chris Barton from The Los Angeles Times and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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