No, it's not. The only people who say that are those who never needed it. The flick of the razor, the taste of the tranquilizer or the freedom of the fall are all quickly replaced by a fear that only the doomed and damned souls know.

It is an exquisite fear. The most poigniant feeling of all. It's an experience that is the most well-crafted thing in mortal existence, transcending all others.

It is the pain of oblivion. The true knowledge that, for this brief parenthesis, you are truly alone. True, gutwrenching loneliness is the most incinerating pain of all.

For a immeasurable pause, all your gods and goddess, friends and loved ones have abandoned you. Simply you, running face first into the brick wall that is to be your unrelenting nothingness.

If I may quote Christian Slater in Pump up the volume, "But the unhappy truth is that sometimes being a teenager is less fun than being dead."

Death was never easy; neither the first time, nor the second.

No matter how painful or painless suicide is for the one who carries it out, the people who love that person are the ones who will suffer the most. This, incidentally, is why I am still alive, as there have been times when there was nothing in particular that I was living for. Suicide is selfish. Please refrain from killing yourself!

Through early morning fog I see
visions of the things to be
the pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see...

"Suicide is Painless" is first heard during the opening of the 1970 anti-war film M*A*S*H. This song is upbeat and light - sort of a pop song with an ironic chorus vocal. Set during the Korean War, the film begins with our attention on a sign: "THIS IS WHERE IT IS - PARALLEL 38." Underneath, arrows point to "NORTH KOREA" in one direction and "SOUTH KOREA" in the other. Two rescue helicopters are coming in low, descending to a point just outside the entrance to a hospital.

That suicide is painless
it brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.

Back to the helicopters, we see two signs on them, on which all we can read at first are the very large letters: "M*A*S*H." Moving closer to the helicopters as they hit the ground, the rest of the sign is exposed. Above the four large letters it says: "4077TH," and one can see that M*A*S*H has small print that says "Mobile Army Surgical Hospital." The helicopters land and enlisted men from the Medical Corps Carry two wounded soldiers from each into the the hospital.

I try to find a way to make
all our little joys relate
without that ever-present hate
but now I know that it's to late, and...

Suicide is painless
it brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.

Soon we are riding in a stolen army jeep with Capt. Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce (played by Donald Sutherland) and Capt. Augustus Bedford "Duke" Forrest (played by Tom Skerritt). The jeep rides around the countryside for a while over a bumpy dirt road. The stolen jeep pulls up into the U.S. Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH), which is the setting for most the entire movie, excepting a small part where Capt. John Francis Xavier "Trapper John" McIntyre (played Elliott Gould) weasles his way to Seoul for a golf adventure.

The game of life is hard to play
I'm going to lose it anyway
the losing card I'll someday lay
so this is all I have to say

That suicide is painless
it brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.

The backstory behind the song
Walt "Painless Pole" Waldowski (played by John Schuck) is introduced as an extremely well endowed man. Once, while Painless Pole is taking a shower, with many people gawking at him, Duke explains to the bewildered Trapper and Hawkeye that Painless Pole is the best equipped dentist in the whole army. In his tent, Painless Pole displays the pictures of three georgeous women who he claims are all his fiancees back home.

We learn that during a recent sexual mis-adventure Painless Pole had a problem getting up to speed and was ultimately unable to perform. The whole crew senses that something is wrong with him and Hawkeye speaks with him about it. Painless Pole explains his problem by telling him that he believes that despite never having any sexual attraction to males in his life, in dreams or otherwise, he thinks he is a repressed homosexual. He also says that he believes he'll never be able to perform with a woman again.

The only way to win is cheat
and lay it down before I'm beat
and to another give my seat
for that's the only painless feat

Suicide is painless
it brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.

Later, in a conversation with Duke, Trapper, and Hawkeye, he tells them his plans to commit suicide to fix his problem. The doctors help him out by suggesting the "Black Capsule", and claim it is an "easy, pleasant, never-miss the direction you want to go".

The doctors all set up a scene, looking very much like The Last Supper. However, in this blasphemous scene it's not Jesus Christ being sent off to die, it is our hero the well-endowed dentist. The doctors decide to dope up Painless and tell him its the suicide pill. Painless receives the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick (commonly called "last rites"). We see two tables from the mess hall set end-to-end with a huge candlelit feast, which is just coming to an end. In this darkly comic scene, Painless Pole is gently coaxed into taking the "Black Capsule" and is asked to lay himself into the coffin since he is a heavy man and they didn't want to have to lift him later. While all this is going on, the black Private Seidman (played by Ken Prymus) sings the song "Suicide is Painless" in his deep and soulful baritone voice.

The sword of time will pierce our skins
it doesn't hurt when it begins
but as it works its way on in
the pain grows it grin but...

Suicide is painless
it brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.

Painless Pole is taken back to his tent and placed into his bed. Hawkeye has convinced the young and sexy Lt. Maria Dish Schneider (played by Jo Ann Pflug) to entertain Painless as he wakes up. Her eyes bulge when Hawkeye pulls the sheet off of him and she gets a look at his manhood. Hawkeye hands the sheet to Dish and walks out of the tent. She returns her gaze to the sleeping Painless and drops the sheet. The tent flaps close then the camera pans to the roof of the tent, which is pointing firmly upward. The next time we see Painless, he is happy and obviously cured of his dysfuntion.

The creation of the song
The composer Johnny Mandel tells this story of the song's creation: "It was written for that last supper scene, and because it actually had to be played by one of the actors, it had to be written before the movie was shot. Director Robert Altman wanted something that was funny and kind of stupid to accompany this scene, and he came back after three days and said, "I can't write anything that ridiculous." So he got his teenage son to do it, and I wrote what you now know as the 'Theme From MASH' to those lyrics."

A brave man once requested me
to answer questions that are key
is it to be or not to be
and I replied "oh why ask me?"

'Cause suicide is painless
it brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.

So the lyrics were penned by then 14-year-old, Mike Altman (son of director Robert Altman and actress Lotus Corelli). Mike told M*A*S*H producer Ingo Preminger that all he wanted in return for his services was a guitar. Preminger insisted that Altman would be compensated in the regular manner and drew up a contract. As it turned out, with Mike receiving royalties every time the song is played, he wound up making far more than the $75,000 his father was paid to direct the film.

...and you can do the same thing if you please.


  • Due to its shocking lyrics, the CBS television show M*A*S*H (1972-1983) used only instrumental versions of the song.
  • The TV series theme changed nearly every year. There are ten different versions that made it on the air.
  • The version at the beginning of the movie only uses the 1st, 3rd, and 6th verses. During the last supper the 4th verse was added. The movie completely leaves out the second and fifth verses (those beginning with "I try to find..." and "The sword of time...").
  • The 1970 soundtrack to the movie has the version played at the beginning listed as Track #1, "Theme from M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless)" and another version as Track #10, "M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless)", which is performed by jazz great Ahmad Jamal. The version sung by the actor in the movie isn't on the soundtrack.

Other notable versions:

  • Bill Evans - This jazz great recorded the song in 1977 and it was released posthumously on the album You Must Believe in Spring (1981).
  • Paul Desmond - Released on the 1975 album Pure Desmond
  • Bobby Hutcherson - The vibraphonist released his version on 1999's Blue Movies: Scoring For The Studios.
  • Jimmy Smith - A particular favorite of mine. The keyboardist released the song on 1982's Off the Top.
  • Marilyn Manson - Manson released his well-suited version on Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows soundtrack (2000).
  • Manic Street Preachers - The 1992 single became their first UK top 10 hit. It was recorded for Ruby Trax, a charity album in aid of the Spastics Society (now called Scope).

"...and that's all I got to say about that."

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