The tragic end of a great actor

Remembering Ed Flanders who died on this day, February 22, in 1995.

At the time I was a divorced writer living with my 17-year-old son in a weekly-rate motel in Topanga Beach, California. We never missed an episode.

The award-winning series was about the lives and dedication of the doctors and nurses at run-down, under-funded St. Eligius Hospital in the slums of South Boston that became “a sanctuary for the underdog and the downtrodden,” to quote a reviewer.


One of the best actors among a marvelous cast that included Denzel Washington, Mark Harmon, Ed Begley Jr. and David Morse, was Ed Flanders, who played Dr. Westphall, the Director of Medicine who was regarded as the heart and soul of the hospital.

Flanders received eight Emmy nominations as Outstanding Lead Actor in a TV Series and won three times.



He left St. Elsewhere in 1988. After three divorces, a crippling back injury from a near fatal car accident in 1989, and a lifelong battle with depression (his mother was killed in a car crash when he was 14), he became a recluse on his 190-acre ranch in the tiny hamlet of Denny in northern California.

Ed Flanders was an alcoholic who had gone through rehab in the late 1980s, but went back to the bottle.

Denny, California, so small it doesn’t show up on a map.


On his daily 30-mile drive into Willow Creek, the closest town large enough to have a post office, he would pick up his mail and frequent the local bars.

“He came in by himself,” one bartender recalled, “and always sat in the same place, on the bar stool near the door. He was a very lonely man.”

Ed Flanders spent his final days in a depression “so deep he rarely left his sofa,” according to reporter Tom Gliatto.

.30-06 RIFLE

Then, on the morning of February 22, 1995, he took a .30-06 rifle from a closet, positioned the barrel against his right temple and pulled the trigger. He was 60 years old. There was no suicide note.

Ed Flanders had many other successes on screen and stage, including a Tony Award for Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten on Broadway. See bio HERE.

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9 thoughts on “The tragic end of a great actor

  1. I was not happy when that show went off the air. I ended up recording the reruns and watching it all over again. (and to think that was before TiVo, DVR’s and streaming.

  2. That was very sad. I had never knew about his life. I knew of St Elsewhere but at that time watching other shows. It just proves how important getting help for depression and mental health issues is.