Retired Army Lt. Gen. Richard R. Taylor, 55, the Army surgeon general before retiring in 1977, died of cardiac arrest Wednesday at Arlington Hospital.

Gen. Taylor came to Washington in 1970 as head of the Army's Medical Research and Development Command. He was named deputy surgeon general in March 1973, and surgeon general in October of that year.

He joined the Army in 1947, commanded a medical battalion in Korea in 1953, and served as a staff surgeon in Thailand during the mid-1960s.

He was command surgeon at military assistance headquarters in Vietnam during 1969-70.

Gen. Taylor was a native of Prairieburg, Iowa. He earned bachelor's and medical degrees at the University of Chicago.

He was a fellow of the American College of Physicians and the American College of Chest Physicians. He had been president of the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States.

His decorations included the Bronze Star medal, the Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster.

He is survived by his wife Frances C., and two sons, Bryan and David, all of the home in McLean; two other sons, Richard, of Gloucester, Mass., and Colby, of Knoxville, Tenn.; a daughter, Carolyn Jean McDonald, of Silver Spring, and five grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the national capital affiliate of the American Heart Association.