John Mahoney, best known as Martin Crane, the irascible father of Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce on Frasier, passed away Sunday night. He was 77-years-old.
A Chicago medical magazine editor, Mahoney quit his day job when he was 37-years old to study acting. He became a member of Chicago’s fabled Steppenwolf Theater where he appeared in Lyle Kessler’s brutal play Orphans, going with the production when it played Off-Broadway in 1983, receiving a Theatre World Award.
Mahoney won a Tony Award in 1986 for his performance in a revival of John Guare’s The House Of Blue Leaves. The production was videotaped for PBS’ Theatre in America series. In 2007, he was back on Broadway in a revival of Craig Lucas’s Prelude To A Kiss.
He had the double-whammy of appearing Barry Levinson’s Tin Men in 1987, the same year he was so memorable in Moonstruck as a depressed college professor dad who regularly had affairs with his students.
Although he was offered numerous series after Frasier, Mahoney moved back to Chicago in 2003 and began acting again with Steppenwolf, first starring in I Never Sang For My Father, and the following year, playing Sir in The Dresser.
He was much praised for his performance as an anguished CEO in psychological counseling on Season 2 of HBO’s In Treatment in 2009. From 2011 to 2014, Mahoney had a recurring role on Hot In Cleveland the love interest of Betty White’s character.
I was always such a huge fan of the Frasier (1993-2004), but even more so during the year that I was in cancer treatment and I found a channel that seemed to only play Frasier reruns that kept me laughing. It certainly is one of the gayest series of all time, with openly gay cast members: Tony Award winner David Hyde Pierce as Niles Crane, Edward Hibbert as Gil Chesterton, station KACL’s premier food critic, Dan Butler as sports reporter Bulldog Brisko, and Mahoney who was quietly gay, never talking about his private life in interviews, but well known in the Chicago GLBTQ scene. Maybe because no one has ever asked him if he was gay, he never felt the need to make a public statement about it.
Born in England, Mahoney first discovered acting at the Stretford Children’s Theater. He took acting classes at St. Nicholas Theatre in Chicago which was where he was encouraged by John Malkovich to join Steppenwolf Theater. While there, he won the Clarence Derwent Award as Most Promising Male Newcomer… at 40-years-old.
His resume is filled with impressive roles in iconic films: Say Anything… (1989), Reality Bites (1994), the thriller In The Line Of Fire (1994), the baseball flick Eight Men Out (1988) plus the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink (1991) and The Hudsucker Proxy (1994).
A versatile actor, he plays a murdering racist in Costa-Gravas’ Betrayed (1988), giving a powerful, restrained performance. He is equally moving, hilariously, and quite romantic in Moonstruck, and memorable as the quintessential icy bureaucrat in Roman Polanski’s Frantic (1988).
Mahoney was also known for his voice work in many classic animated features including The Iron Giant (1998) and Antz (1999). In 2007, he reunited with his Frasier co-stars on The Simpsons and as Dr. Robert Terwiiliger, Sr., the father of Grammer’s Sideshow Bob and Pierce’s Cecil.
He played gay in The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy (2000) as a restaurant owner who provides advice for a group of gay friends in West Hollywood played by Timothy Olyphant, Dean Cain, Zach Braff, and Billy Porter.
His final performance was Foyle’s War is a British detective drama in 2015.
Yet, it was his role in Frasier as the fussy, unfiltered Martin Crane that earned him the most recognition. The role earned him two Emmy Award nominations, two Golden Globe nominations and a Screen Actors Guild Award win. That role will cause most of our tears to be shed at his loss.