Tuesday, February 06, 2018

RIP John Mahoney

Boy, this is a tough one. John Mahoney passed away. He was 77. Probably best known for playing Frasier’s dad, Martin on FRASIER.

John was maybe the nicest, most easy-going man on the planet. And what a sensational actor. I had the privilege to both write for him and direct him. The consummate professional, John always knew his lines, was always there for rehearsal, always cheerful, always generous.

Off the set he was quiet, private, and almost shy. You don’t hear of many actors referred to as “shy.” But that was John. You could really get him talking however if you brought up football. He was a huge football fan. So it was even more tragic for him to die on Super Bowl Sunday.

I first met John on CHEERS. David and I had an episode where we needed a middle-aged jingle writer. A real Tin Pan Alley guy. We had another actor, but after the dress rehearsal he just freaked out with such a case of stage fright that he drove off the lot and never returned. Obviously, we couldn’t shoot that part that night, but we re-cast and shot it the following week. John Mahoney was hired to fill that role. And crushed it.

At the time, Peter Casey, David Lee, and David Angell were casting their pilot of FRASIER. They saw the CHEERS episode with John and thought he might be a good choice to play Martin. The rest is history. Crazy how these things work out sometimes.

John was a gentle soul with a twinkle in his eye. He was equally gifted at comedy and drama. And he made it look easy. To me he was the real key to the success of FRASIER. He was voice of the common man who never let the brothers get too full of themselves. And yet his love for them, and theirs for him was evident in every moment of every episode.

Everyone in the FRASIER family, from the writers to the cast to the Teamster drivers loved John. We have a large body of his work, both in TV and films (particularly SAY ANYTHING) to enjoy and appreciate for years to come. John Mahoney was special. One of a kind. No one will ever be able to fill his chair.


Honest Ed said...

'He was voice of the common man who never let the brothers get too full of themselves. And yet his love for them, and theirs for him was evident in every moment of every episode.'

I think this is the key. The Hollywood Reporter, in it's obit, called the character cantankerous. That was never the point, and faced with the Crane Bros, who wouldn't be a little cantankerous? As long as Martin loved them, the audience loved them.

Justin Russo said...

I always think of Mr. Mahoney's versatility when comparing "Frasier" to the creep he played in "Moonstruck." The chemistry he had with Olypmia Dukakis in those few scenes is palpable and such a balance to the frenetic Cher/Nicholas Cage story. I am sorry for your loss.

Francis Dollarhyde said...

John Mahoney was simply incapable of giving a mediocre performance. Every time he appeared onscreen, even if he was in a minor role, you knew he would crush it. I especially loved his work in MOONSTRUCK (a film I saw for the first time only recently), EIGHT MEN OUT, SAY ANYTHING..., and BARTON FINK. And to me he was the heart and soul of FRASIER. Nice to know he was a genuinely good person behind the scenes. Rest easy, sir.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Thank you, Mr. Levine, for your kind words for your friend. You have my condolences.

There is a personal poignancy to Mr. Mahoney's death, as it comes days before the fifth anniversary of the death of my mother, who so enjoyed Mr. Mahoney's work on "Frasier" and in "Moonstruck."

The Chicago Tribune and Vanity Fair have lovely tributes to Mr. Mahoney on their respective Web sites.

Tudor Queen said...

I was deeply saddened to read about John Mahoney's death. 77 is too young for such a terrific talent and, based on your description, a wonderful human being. Plus he entered acting relatively late (I remember reading he was about forty), but we still have so many wonderful performances. I first noticed him in "Moonstruck" and never stopped noticing after that. I imagine Olympia Dukakis enjoyed working with him - their scenes together had a lovely, easy rhythm. (Her husband, the wonderful actor Louis Zorich died this week, too).

One of my many quarrels with the Emmy Awards was that he never won one for his work on "Cheers". I'm not sure he cared that much, but I cared!

Peter said...

A truly tragic loss. In a cast of great actors, I always felt John Mahoney stood out with his timing and delivery. No one could deliver a snarky line of dialogue better than him.

So many gems throughout the years in Frasier, it's hard to pick one. But one of my all time favourites is when Martin pretended the Cranes were descended from Russian royalty.

"Well, I guess you would have found out anyway after I died. We're royalty. But I didn't want you to grow up spoiled, so I abdicated and took a job in Seattle on the police force. It was kinda hard giving up that royal way of life, but I think maybe it's the swans that I miss most."


C.E.L. Welsh said...

I loved him as Martin, and for my kids (and me) his delivery as the General in Iron Giant and Preston B. Whitmore in the animated Atlantis movies stole the show. Lovely write up, Ken, thanks for sharing your personal connections to all these amazing folks.

Unknown said...

Sorry for your loss. This is so sad but what a wonderful life. Millions of us spent many happy hours laughing at this guy's brilliant performance. And it's always great to hear that fabulously-talented people are also decent human beings behind the scenes.

I always loved that line from Niles about how their Dad was all tough on the outside but underneath it all he was "... one giant spike." But of course he wasn't; his warmth was just revealed in brillantly-subtle, unexpected ways. You gradually grew to love him.

I'm sure that was tough for you to write but thanks for sharing your thoughts. All the best.

blogward said...

Delightful man, met him backstage in London once. John was indeed the key to Frasier - and who else would have been believable as Eddie's owner?

Tore from Norway said...

A great loss. John Mahoney was one of my favorite actors. He was absolutely phenomenal in BARTON FINK, HUDSUCKER PROXY and the underrated and overlooked FLIPPED.

And FRASIER, of course.

When FRASIER premiered on Norwegian television in January 1996, I was immediately hooked (even though I had been sceptical because I thought nothing could be as good as CHEERS).

By 1999 my fandom had risen to a level where I decided to write each cast member a letter. The show was — as you all know — super popular in 1999 so I did not expect any sort of reply from any of them; to me it was far more important to thank them for all the laughs and superb episodes.

But to my surprise two of them did reply! David Hyde Pierce sent a lovely autographed photo with a personalized dedication (very kind of him). John did the same and added a handwritten letter — dated October 13th 1999 and written on Frasier stationary (!) — where he thanked me for my letter and support, adding «I still love doing the show after all these years». What a truly sweet guy. He didn’t *have* to sit down and write a letter to some dorky kid in Norway … but he did.

Needless to say that the letter is one of my most treasured possessions. I re-read it today with a tear in my eye.

The only solace I can find today is that John didn’t bring his wonderful work with him.

Thank you for everything, John. I miss you a lot already.

(And thank you for writing a lovely tribute, Ken!)

Sparks said...

He was the best thing about Tin Men, among others.

Michael said...

Some friends have said my dad resembled Martin Crane, physically. I could see it. But I have to tell you, an episode Ken did NOT write, where Frasier takes the gang on a cruise .... Martin's main role was to go roaring by on his cane to go to the buffet. That IS my dad, without the cane. Come to think of it, that's me, too.

If John Mahoney was only half the man he was as an actor, he was a fine man, indeed.

Issa Kelly said...

Ive said it once and Ill say it again: he should've won an Emmy for his role. He brought so much to Martin. The character started off as grumpy but became such a warm presence as he evolved the character. So underrated amongst the Crane men.

Glenn said...

Supposedly Kelsey Grammar approached John and asked "Would you be my dad?" There are two scenes with Martin that still make me laugh out loud to this day: the first is when Niles and Frasier buy the restaurant and it all goes to hell, including a car driven through the wall. As everyone sits around licking their wounds, the phone rings and Martin answers:

Martin: "Table for two? No problem. Smoke damaged or non-smoke damaged?" The laugh he delivers after that is priceless.

The second is when Daphne is trying to avoid an old boyfriend so they have Niles pose as her husband.

Niles (to Martin): I'm married to Daphne and Frasier is separated from Maris.
Martin (to Frasier): You couldn't stand her either, huh?

Again, the laugh after the joke is hilarious.

RIP John. Thanks for all the laughs.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Loss sucks. I try to draw strength and resilience from the kind Martin Crane brought to us all.

So sorry.

Andrew said...

Thanks for this, Ken.

I think he was underrated as an actor on Frasier, because the two brothers could be so flamboyant. John was like the anchor of the show. And even though his comedic skills were exceptional, he brought so much dramatic seriousness in the midst of it.

For example: "Okay, I'll tell you what chair I want. I want the chair I was sitting in when I watched Neil Armstrong take his first step on the Moon. And when the US hockey team beat the Russians in the '80 Olympics. I want the chair I was sitting in the night you called me to tell me I had a grandson. I want the chair I was in all those nights, when your mother used to wake me up with a kiss after I'd fallen asleep in front of the television. Y'know I still fall asleep in it. And every once in a while, when I wake up, I still expect your mother to be there, ready to lead me off to bed... Oh, never mind. It's only a chair."

Brings tears to my eyes.


Andrew said...

Thanks for this, Ken.

I think he was underrated as an actor on Frasier, because the two brothers could be so flamboyant. John was like the anchor of the show. And even though his comedic skills were exceptional, he brought so much dramatic seriousness in the midst of it.

For example: "Okay, I'll tell you what chair I want. I want the chair I was sitting in when I watched Neil Armstrong take his first step on the Moon. And when the US hockey team beat the Russians in the '80 Olympics. I want the chair I was sitting in the night you called me to tell me I had a grandson. I want the chair I was in all those nights, when your mother used to wake me up with a kiss after I'd fallen asleep in front of the television. Y'know I still fall asleep in it. And every once in a while, when I wake up, I still expect your mother to be there, ready to lead me off to bed... Oh, never mind. It's only a chair."

Brings tears to my eyes.


Vickster said...

I'm sorry for the personal loss his friends, family and colleagues are experiencing.
I've often noticed that the laughs I get while watching Frasier are often because of Martin's reactions, spoken and physical. I watch him in the background and he's always got the perfect look on his face.
I think you're right that his characterization of Martin was the heart of the show.
I appreciate him.

VincentS said...

So sorry to hear this. Was always a fan of his. He was an actor's actor (many actors, BTW, are shy or, like me, introverted. That's why we act. It's a safe way to express ourselves.) John Mahoney's portrayal of Martin Crane will always be special to me because it reminded me of my dad, who was also a down-to-earth, easy going cop.

Mike Barer said...

What a beautiful memorial. I was saddened to hear of his passing.

Kirk said...

Sorry to hear this. Great actor.

Unknown said...

In the spring of '90, ABC had a (very) short-lived series -six shows and out - called H.E.L.P. It was about a combined police/fire/medical emergency team working out of Harlem. John Mahoney played the FDNY battalion chief who ran the unit.

For ABC at that time, this was a high-end production; I recall that Tony Hendra had a recurring role as a newspaper columnist, and the guest stars in one episode included Garson Kanin and Marian Seldes as an elderly couple who wanted to die together.

It was John Mahoney's job to tie the multiple storylines together, which of course he did.
Each episode would end with a brief philosopical narration by Mahoney as the chief; each one ended with Mahoney saying:
"Someday I'm gonna write a book."

Here in Chicago, just about everybody wishes that John Mahoney had done that.
"What might have been ..."

Anonymous said...

Brilliant casting also on Frasier. Who would think the oh-so swell pretentious Crane boys would be descended by the likes of a Marty Crane and his recliner. I am watching Frasier at this moment. RIP. Janice B.

Brad Preston said...

I recently re-watched an "ER" from one of the later seasons where John played a drag queen whose dying partner's estranged, homophobic family didn't want John's character to have any say in his treatment. He was brilliant in it, as is the case with everything else I've seen him in, and we got to hear him sing at the end. He will be missed.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Thank you for this tribute, and for giving Marty Crane a dream sequence where he put down his cane and DANCED. John Mahoney could do it all.

Unknown said...

Incredible how one man's talent can shine across the world. I'm in Botswana and only started following your blog to get Frasier insights.

It's a loss all around, but his gift keeps on giving

John Hammes said...

It is no fun when loved ones leave this mortal coil, be it family, friends, good neighbors. It is no fun when, as our lives go on, this becomes something of a familiar routine. At the very least - and the very most - we can take comfort that our loved ones have given us the answers we need, shown us the way we were always asking, and to paraphrase The Doors, will warmly greet us again when we ourselves "break on through to the other side".

Brian said...

A great tribute and, in my humble never-did-much-actor-training opinion, a great actor. Since I have had Netflix(about 5 years) there isn't a week that has gone by that I don't watch a Frasier episode and you can see his brilliance. Also, he did a fine turn in "Burn Notice" as well. I will now list all the bad performances that I have seen of his:

Thanks, that covers all of them.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Honest Ed: The Guardian made a similar idiotic statement, calling Martin "misanthropic", which was absurd: Martin didn't *hate people*. (I'm wondering if the writer knows what the word means.)

Ken, I'm sorry for your loss. He was a fine actor.


Jahn Ghalt said...

The John Mahoney Cheers reshoot inspires a Friday Question:

When you do reshoots that are from last week's show, are they in front of an audience?

If so, do you do them before the scheduled show? Do you let the audience "in" on the circumstance?

Gary Theroux said...

I don't think there is any question that "Frasier" developed into the very best sitcom television has ever presented. It's success was the result of a once-in-a-lifetime magical blend of first-rate casting, direction, story development and arching, scriptwriting and performance. Much has been made of how perfectly Kelsey and David formed a comedy team with real depth and heart. However, without the anchoring characters John and Jane brought to life with equal skill, "Frasier"'s compelling formula would have come off half-baked. It's rare when captured on film -- especially in a sitcom -- one find characters as three-dimensional as the core of "Frasier." Over time they grew to become more real in the minds of viewers than many real people in those viewers lives. We truly came to care deeply about every one of the principals. "Frasier" was far from what fills time on most sitcoms: cartoonish insults, sex jokes, etc. acompanied by a fake laugh track which explodes with guffaws and applause every time any character does anything -- if it's "funny" or not. That two-dimensionality was never present on "Frasier," which alway came across as REAL and always will -- because it's all-too-human comedy is truly timeless. Like a fine watch, all the key characters on "Frasier" perfectly balanced each other. Every script avoided every cliche found elsewhere in television and as a result was fresh, funny, insightful and captivating. Could "Frasier" have been produced without what John brought to the character of Martin? Sure. Someone else could have played the part. But it would have been like taking a perfect recipe, removing a perfect ingredient and throwing in something else and hoping for the best. You'd still have some sort of concoction, but it wouldn't be the same. You wouldn't have the specific magic mix that made "Frasier" the timeless treasure that it is.

Unknown said...

Brought a tear to my eye, sure he'll be enjoying a Ballantine at one of his Marty Parties somewhere. RIP John & thank you.

Steve said...

It was great to see him on HBO's In Treatment just a few years back delivering yet another fine dramatic performance, especially for an actor who was so damned funny. Sorry for your loss, Ken.

Peter said...

Reading the Twitter tributes, this one by Joe Keenan is very moving.

John Mahoney was a lovely man. His Martin Crane was FRASIER's moral center; his cranky decency and bewildered love for his two improbable sons was hilarious one minute, heartbreaking the next, and you never caught him acting. It was a privilege and a joy to write for him.

tb said...

Was watching a John Wayne Navy movie, and there was Mahoney. Was he great? Of course he was

Mike Bloodworth said...

John Mahoney was one of those actors that always seemed older than he really was. In fact, if his age is correct then technically he was too young to be Frasier's dad. Another sign of his acting ability. Something else I heard about John, and Ken maybe you can confirm or deny this, is that John was from England and he was the one that taught Jane Leeves her Manchester dialect. My favorite moment was the episode were Frasier's new station manager thinks he's gay. Niles and Martin go into the kitchen and Martin explodes in laughter when he hears the news. R.I.P.

Pete Grossman said...

Yes, Ken, sorry to hear you lost a close colleague. Wishing all who knew John peace and strength as they morn.

Indeed, as some have mentioned, first noticed John Mahoney in "Moonstruck." His seen with Olympia Dukakis just flows with ease, especially considering the unease of the scene. A brilliant script by John Patrick Shanley.

Larry V said...

I was a huge fan of "Frasier" from the day it premiered to the day it ended its run. I watch the reruns as often as I can. It would be hard for me to list all the factors that made "Frasier" a great TV show - and it was great indeed - but John Mahoney was one of them. He will be sorely missed. I thank you Ken, and I thank Mr. Mahoney for all you did in bringing "Frasier" to us.

jcs said...

I have a lot of respect for people like Mahoney who abandon a regular career (in this case editor at a medical journal) and follow their passion. I'd like to add that it can't have been easy to live with a colostomy (as a result of colon cancer) which - according to Mahoney himself - ended his romantic life when he must've been around 44 years of age.

John Mahoney admired the writing staff according to a 2008 interview in Time Out:
"I’m not intimidated by other actors at all — or directors. I don’t care who they are. But I am intimidated by writers. I hold them in the highest esteem."

Max Clarke said...

This is the second time he has left too soon.

The first time was the movie, TIN MEN, way back in the 1980s. John played a house siding salesman in Baltimore who used shady tactics to sign customers up for expensive metal house siding. He would charm his way through a sale. His character's name was Moe Adams.

But one night when he was closing a deal in a customer's home, Moe had a heart attack. He survived and recovered, but Moe had to retire from the siding business.

I still recall that sense of loss because John was such an interesting actor to watch.I had never seen him before. I really wanted to see Moe Adams stay in the movie.

Anonymous said...

Rookie mistake...
Best line when he was telling the boys how to work the buffet.

Ken said...

Comment/ question to David Kelly's comment about Mahoney not winning an emmy.
Do some actors/actresses make the role appear so natural and effortless that they are overlooked because the critics and audience cannot see them "working" at the role?
Lord knows in his portrayal of Frasiers father ( an in the House of Blue Leaf's -? spelling / title might be off a bit) he did just that. It appeared so natural and easy it was easy to forget that he was living a role.

Joe said...

Great tribute, Ken.

In your last podcast, you and Preston Beckman talked about the importance of casting. John Mahoney could be Exhibit A. The scripts for "Frasier" were amazing, but the relationship of the three Crane men was the key and definitely needed the right man to play Martin.

And to think, it was another actor's stage fright on "Cheers" that made it possible.

John was part of the Mount Rushmore of "Cheers" songs.

-- "Albania. Albania. You border on the Adriatic."

-- "Get your scores from a guy like me, who knows what it's like to have a going injury. G-g-g-g groin, g-g-g-groin injury."

-- Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly."

-- "C-H-E-R-S"

Skoonix said...

Great tribute, Ken. I was lucky enough to see him in his Tony Award winning Broadway debut in 1986 in John Guare's
great play, THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES. Mahoney was simply magnificent.

Johnny Walker said...

Very sad to hear this news. In my head he's perpetually Martin on Frasier, and the idea that he's not around anymore is an odd one. Obviously it must be 100 times worse if you knew the man, but glad to hear he was so nice behind the scenes.

Angela said...

Yeah, this loss hurts very much. Martin Crane was one of the best, most memorable TV dads ever. He reminded me in many ways of my own dad-same sense of humor and honest, matter-of-fact attitude about life. And Martin himself was such a great, complex character-I loved how he could be all grumbly about something one minute, reflective about Hester the next (I loved the moments when he'd reflect on his love for her), and then have a great zinger or a charming moment along the way.

Mahoney was perfect for the role, and I loved seeing him play off of Grammer and Pierce. You could totally see the genuine father-son bond between all three men. I'm so glad that he was chosen to be on "Frasier", and got the opportunity to create such a memorable and beloved character. And I love hearing all these stories from people talking about how great and kind he was :). That great, kind personality came through well in his portrayal of Martin, too, and it makes me appreciate and admire Mahoney that much more.

Lovely tribute to a true class act. He'll never be forgotten.

John H said...

I'm sorry for your loss Ken.

Andy Rose said...

I had always assumed that his casting for Cheers was a result of his performance in The House of Blue Leaves. Sy Flembeck seemed quite a bit like Artie Shaughnessy... wanna-be piano playing songwriters who don't realize they don't have the gift.

Issa Kelly said...

What I love so much is watching the subtle physical changes in Martin. In S1, He plays Martin with a stern almost joyless aspect to his features which is understandable given what he has gone through. Even the cadence of his voice is gravely and slightly harsh. As the character becomes more settled and contented with his new life, Martin's eyes begin to twinkle and his features brighten up. His voice is more upbeat and mellifluous. It's such a subtle change in Martin. So much so it's blink and you'll miss it. That's expert acting. It never calls attention to itself. That's why he was never awarded for it. Not showy. In one episode he could be delivering the hell out of a one-liner then he breaks your heart with a dramatic scene. The episode showing the lead up to the shooting that handicapped Martin is so well done by him. Also, for years as a kid I thought he actually walked with a cane in real life. He was that convincing!!! A talent sorely missed.

Griff said...

Such a wonderful actor. Many excellent performances in films, and he was outstanding in the off-Broadway production of ORPHANS and in his Tony-winning role in THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES. He was so important to the long success of FRASIER, and everyone knew it. I hope he had a good life -- he bought so much joy to audiences.

PJ said...

I watch Frasier as I'm falling asleep every night. My other favorite performance of his was in the Broken Hearts Club. He was the heart of that movie too. I'm sorry for your loss Ken, as you knew him personally. I am just a fan, and I am heartbroken.

Donald said...

Ken: I'm from Chicago, and Mr Mahoney is especially revered in these parts. Several years back, a local theatre company mounted a production of Hugh Leonard's "A Life," starring Mahoney and Rob Belushi. I interviewed the director for the Chicago Tribune. The question came out lamer than I intended, but basically, I asked what it was like to direct John Mahoney. The director told me that John would have hated that question. He was all about the ensemble and would not want to be singled out over Belushi or the other members of the cast. A favorite playgoing memory was seeing him as Sheridan Whiteside in Steppenwolf Theatre's production of "The Man Who Came to Dinner" alongside the wonderful Harriet Sansom Harris as his long-suffering secretary.

Jabroniville said...

The acting in their Halloween episode, where Niles implies that Martin considers his sons to be "my TWO biggest disappointments", and Martin is hurt and offended by the idea, is just dead on perfect. You can tell that Martin hates that this is what Niles thinks of him. You can just FEEL the sting in it.

Don K. said...

This bears repeating because it is one of the best moments of a TV show, any play, any movie or just any scene, ever. It was actual, real life down to its raw core:

"Okay, I'll tell you what chair I want. I want the chair I was sitting in when I watched Neil Armstrong take his first step on the Moon. And when the US hockey team beat the Russians in the '80 Olympics. I want the chair I was sitting in the night you called me to tell me I had a grandson. I want the chair I was in all those nights, when your mother used to wake me up with a kiss after I'd fallen asleep in front of the television. Y'know I still fall asleep in it. And every once in a while, when I wake up, I still expect your mother to be there, ready to lead me off to bed... Oh, never mind. It's only a chair."

Mahoney delivered it perfectly. Whoever wrote it will never top that. But I'll tell you, that sums up more about life and things we all care about more than anything, especially for those of us who have lived a good portion of our lives and know the end is nearer than the beginning.

Anonymous said...

My mom and I spent the better part of the day quoting Martin lines and laughing ourselves silly.
John Mahoney was brilliant..and the writing for him was brilliant. It is an amazing thing to speak words written so long ago and still bring them to mind at random moments to help me get through a rough day at work or a time of of sadness.
Mahoney was one of those actors that the moment I saw him in anything, I knew I was going to love whatever it was.
I am so sorry for your loss Ken...and thanks for sharing your memories and anecdotes over the years...He will live on...

sanford said...

I hope that everyone who gets notifications for comments to this reads this article. A great tribute to Mahoney as Martin and the show itself. https://www.rogerebert.com/balder-and-dash/be-careful-with-it-moments-of-martin

Mike Moody said...

I never had the pleasure of meeting him -- wasn't really a regular -- but there was a bar in Oak Park (outside Chicago) where the regulars claim he used to regularly spend the evening. By every account, he was the nicest, most down-to-earth guy you could meet. He was the real life incarnation of Norm. (I particularly smiled when the two of them were matched up on "Fraiser.") Only knowing of him from people that knew him, I know the world is a worse place without him.

Brian said...

Ken, thank you for writing the nice tribute. When I heard of Mr. Mahoney's passing, I knew there was just one place to come to read about him - here.

I found this of him in Cheers. I never knew he was in it. Thanks again.

Don K. said...


It's only a chair.

Barbara said...
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