LOS ANGELES — Emmy Award-winning actor Harry Morgan, who played the crusty yet sympathetic Col. Sherman T. Potter in the sitcom “MASH” and the hard-nosed LAPD Officer Bill Gannon in the television drama “Dragnet,” died Wednesday. He was 96.

Morgan died at his home in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles after a bout with pneumonia, his daughter-in-law, Beth Morgan, told The Associated Press.

Morgan’s eight-year run on “MASH,” the pinnacle of his seven-decade acting career, began when he was 60 and had already appeared on the Broadway stage, in dozens of television shows and more than 50 films.

Three years after it debuted, he joined the show in 1975 as commanding officer of the unorthodox 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, which patched together the wounded during the Korean War.

When the “MASH” finale aired in 1983, 77 percent of the people watching television were tuned in, making it the most widely watched show in history.

Shortly before the final episode was broadcast, Morgan told the Los Angeles Times, “There’ll never be another ‘MASH.’ There’s nothing in the way of doing your best work on this set, absolutely nothing.”

Although he set out to be a lawyer, Morgan fell into acting and stayed. The son of an auto mechanic, he was born Harry Bratsberg in Detroit on April 10, 1915. He grew up in Muskegon, Mich., played high school football despite his small stature and was a member of the school’s champion debate team.

Morgan attended the University of Chicago but left in the 1930s to sell office equipment in Washington, D.C. As a salesman during the Depression he had free time, so he joined a theater group. Performing on a hotel stage he experienced success in “The Front Page” and “The Petrified Forest.”

He left his office equipment job to appear in summer stock. In the fall of 1937 he went to New York City and appeared in several Broadway productions.

“In my ignorance, I thought to myself, ‘Hey, this acting business is a great life!’ Little did I know! Things got rougher from then on. If I had had to struggle at the beginning like most actors … I’d never have stuck it out. But having such complete success at the beginning, I was stuck with being an actor for life,” Morgan said in the 1983 book “‘MASH’: The Exclusive, Inside Story of TV’s Most Popular Show.”

In 1941 he and his actress wife, Eileen, headed for Hollywood, and Morgan did hit a rocky patch of sorts – he didn’t work for five months.

After appearing in a one-act play in Santa Barbara, Calif., titled “Hello Out There,” he was offered a contract with 20th Century Fox and promptly made six movies, starting with “To the Shores of Tripoli.”
Morgan went on to appear in such films as “High Noon” (1953), “The Glenn Miller Story” (1954), “Inherit the Wind” (1960), “Support Your Local Sheriff!” (1969) and his personal favorite, 1943’s “The Ox-Bow Incident.”

One of his early TV credits was “December Bride,” in which he played Pete Porter, the wry-humored, henpecked neighbor who cracked jokes about his wife, the never-seen Gladys. After seven years on “December Bride,” Morgan appeared opposite Cara Williams in an early-1960s spin-off, “Pete and Gladys.”

His TV career continued with the  “The Richard Boone Show” and with “Kentucky Jones.”

Until “MASH,” Morgan was best known for his role as Officer Bill Gannon in “Dragnet,” a show that he had first appeared on in the 1940s on radio. In 1967, Morgan replaced Ben Alexander as the partner of Jack Webb’s Sgt. Joe Friday in the show that lionized the Los Angeles Police Department.

The role of Col. Potter in “MASH” came along when the fictional surgical unit needed a new commanding officer after McLean Stevenson left the show in 1975.

He received eight Emmy nominations for the role and won once, in 1980.

With his first wife, Eileen, Morgan had four sons. She died in 1985 after 45 years of marriage. A son, Daniel, died in 1989.

Survivors include his second wife, Barbara, his sons Christopher, Charles, and Paul; eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.