“Suicide Is Painless” is a song written by Johnny Mandel (music) and Mike Altman (lyrics), which is best known for having been featured as the theme song for both the movie and TV seriesM*A*S*H. The actual title is "Song from M*A*S*H (Suicide is Painless)". Mike Altman is the son of the original film’s director, Robert Altman, and was 14 years old when he wrote the song’s lyrics. During an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in the 1980s, Robert Altman said that his son had earned more than a million US dollars for having co-written the song while he only made US$70,000 for having directed the movie.
The song was written specifically for Ken Prymus (playing Private Seidman) to sing during the faux suicide of another character, Walter "Painless Pole" Waldowski, in the film's infamous "Last Supper" scene, before the filming began. Robert Altman had two stipulations about the song for Mandel; first, it had to be called "Suicide is Painless", secondly, it had to be the "stupidest song ever written". Altman tried to write the lyrics himself, but found that it was too difficult for his 45-year-old brain to write "stupid enough". Instead he gave the task to his 14-year-old-son, Michael, who apparently wrote the lyrics in five minutes.
Altman later decided that the song worked so well, he would use it as the film's main theme, despite Mandel's initial objections. This version was sung by uncredited session singers John Bahler, Tom Bahler, Ron Hicklin and Ian Freebairn-Smith (the vocals are sometimes misattributed to Johnny Mandel, due to his being the only name officially credited for the song).
Grady Tate recorded a soul-jazz version of the song in April 1970 that appears on his second album, After the Long Drive Home (Skye).
Al De Lory recorded a jazz piano version of the tune (as "Song from MASH") that peaked at #7 on the adult contemporary chart during the summer of 1970.
Henry Mancini recorded an easy listening version of the song for his 1970 album Mancini Plays the Theme from Love Story.
Fung Bo Bo recorded a female-vocal version (in English) on a Malaysian EP (MMI Top 21006) in 1970.
Ahmad Jamal recorded an instrumental jazz-funk version of the song (as "Theme from M*A*S*H") on his 1974 release Jamalca. This version was included on some re-releases of the soundtrack album. Jamal recorded another version of the tune for his 1985 album Digital Works.
Roy Ayers recorded an instrumental version of the theme for his 1974 album Change Up the Groove.
Kerstin Forslund and Small Town Singers released a version in 1975. The single made the Top 100 chart in Australia.
Ray Conniff recorded an easy listening version on his 1976 album Theme from S.W.A.T. and Other TV Themes.
Bill Evans recorded a jazz piano trio version of the song for You Must Believe in Spring, an album posthumously released in 1980, having made it a staple of his live sets for some years. Evans' version modulates through 4 keys. The song is also recorded in a jazz piano trio version on the CD Bill Evans Trio, recorded live in Buenos Aires in 1979.
Cal Tjader recorded a version on his album The Shining Sea (1981).
Jimmy Smith recorded a version on his album Off the Top (1982).
Tripod did a short acoustic rendition of the theme in the song "Lingering Dad". Additionally, portions of the theme were later used in the song "Theme from Mash Guy" - a comedic song about a fictionalised writer of the song in an existentialist crisis over being known only as "the theme from M*A*S*H guy".