“Suicide is Painless” by Johnny Mandel

As its title alludes to in a roundabout way, this song is centered on the emotional disposition of a fictional character named “Painless Pole” Waldowski who was featured in the 1970 movie version of “M*A*S*H”. Said character was indeed, at one point, suicidal.  And the lyrics basically depict life as a progressively-depressing experience. As such, the singer concludes that, relatively-speaking, “suicide is painless”. Or stated differently, he perceives the prospect of ending his life as being a less-painful option than continuing it. 

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Mash's Suicide is Painless at Lyrics.org.

And yes, as Marilyn Manson, who later covered this song, himself concluded the lyrics are in fact “depressing and offensive”. And that may be why, in the grand scheme of things, the instrumental to “Suicide Is Painless” has proven to be exponentially more popular than the lyrical version.

Facts about “Suicide is Painless”

Johnny Mandel wrote the music. The lyrics, on the other hand, were written by Mike Altman. Interesting to note is that Mike was only 14 when he wrote them. Mike’s father, Robert Altman (who directed the film “M*A*S*H”) wanted a silly song to accompany the film and make its message more noticeable. He therefore decided to let his son, Mike (who was just 14 at the time) to write the lyrics. And it is believed that Mike used only just 5 minutes to finish working on the lyrics.

It was released in 1970 as the theme song for the movie in question.

“Suicide Is Painless” was a major hit for Johnny Mandel, considering it scored a number 1 in Ireland and UK.

In 1992, Manic Street Preachers released a very successful cover of this classic. Just like the original, it also did very well in Britain.

16 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Suicide is in fact painless at least for those who choose it.

    • All Will B Revealed Anon says:

      Don’t think for a minute a train hitting you at 70 miles an hour is ‘painless’.
      Slitting wrists: not painless.
      Choking on cyanide gas: hellishly torturous.
      One’s liver dissolving after overdosing on paracetamol – totally pain-free and a laugh-a-minute…

      • Fijfi says:

        Painless. You have physical pain. You have mental pain. To those of us with mental pain, suicide does indeed seem painless. Until you live inside the brain of someone who is suicidal, you have no real understanding. I fight my suicidal tendencies every minute of every day.

        • andrea says:

          I hate to make such complex and sad thoughts more confusing, but suicide is painful. Extremely painful. it is painful for those you leave behind. you may not care. I understand your pain may be too much to care. But those who love you, those who you may not even be aware of, will experience intense, long lasting pain. that will be your legacy. You do not resolve pain with your suidcide, you merely transfer it, to someone else.

  2. gthomakos says:

    Life is comedy for some people, but tragedy for others.
    The last may come to realise that a painfull end is better than an endless pain

  3. Ingemar says:

    Beautiful music but stupid lyrics.
    Where is a good instrumental version? I have heard several instrumental, but awful.

  4. James Mercier, P.E. says:

    For those of us who are old enough to have been in the Services during Viet Nam, who were lied to by our trusted government, and especially those who were actually in the Korean War, this song has meaning of darker times. I’m glad I’m WAY past that now, but the song brings back memories of government sponsored futility. That’s also why I loved the movie but despised the tv show as sanitized drivel.

    • Anonymous says:

      James there with you. Having uncles maimed for life in Korea and going through Vietnam,, i ended up hating that show but i thought the song was perfect, Alan Alda pathetic

      • Anonymous says:

        why slagging off Alan Alda he is just an actor he didn’t write it and in movies, you can get away with things more than with TV at least at the time M.A.S.H. was originally aired

    • Anonymous says:

      We were lucky to get my grandfather back from the Korean “conflict”. Otherwise.. I wouldn’t be here and I would have missed knowing such a great man.

  5. Michael Altman says:

    Amazing to me that almost EVERYONE missed the sarcasm. I didn’t think it was that vague to be taken literally especially given the landscape it was created for. Oh well…. don’t believe everything you hear…. Michael Altman

    • Damon voros ([email protected]) says:

      First, Mr. Altman, let me just say how amazed I am that you took time to comment. I have always loved this song, even while serving 20 years in the Air Force. The visuals and emotives are striking, especially for someone as young as you purportedly were when you penned them. I agree with the sorrowful tone of the melody, but “I can take or leave it if i please,” always struck a chord with me. Whether to be depressed over something or choose to celebrate the life I have has always been my choice. These are syrange times: so many people choose to wallow in pain and suffering. But not me: I’m alive, healthy, gainfully employed, and blessed with a wonderful family and friends. Thank you for your song.

  6. DAVID says:


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