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The Sitcom Sultan

Kelsey Grammer keeps riding the wave looking for ways to please his audience through TV, film and stage
Marshall Fine
From the Print Edition:
Kelsey Grammer, January/February 2013

(continued from page 4)

The show was moved to Thursdays but “I think we were pitted against ‘When Animals Turn on Their Masters,’ or something like that. So we went back to Tuesdays and that became our home where we finished out a great run.” The success of “Frasier,” Pierce says, has to do with both the quality of the writing and the chemistry of the cast, an ensemble the included John Mahoney as Niles’s and Frasier’s father, Jane Leeves as the father’s attendant and Peri Gilpin as the lovelorn producer of Frasier’s radio advice show.

“Kelsey is the kind of star who is not intimidated by others’ success,” Pierce says. “He regularly looked to the other actors for input. He didn’t demand to have all of the funny lines.” The longer they worked together, Pierce says, the more fraternal the two actors felt in real life. “From the beginning, we had this personal timing and chemistry—the chemistry of brothers,” Pierce observes. “It was a match made in heaven. We wondered one time if we went back far enough, whether we’d find that we were actually related. We almost knew what each other was thinking.”

With great success, however, comes great press scrutiny. Which is when problems that Grammer had been able to control or hide began to get public attention. His tragic personal history included a father (who he’d rarely seen after his parents divorced when Grammer was 2) shot to death when Grammer was in his teens; a younger sister who was abducted, raped and murdered; twin half-brothers who died in a scuba-diving accident—all within a few years of his departure from Juilliard.

So his long-time drinking—and eventually cocaine use—began to cause Grammer public problems when he gained some fame playing Frasier Crane on “Cheers” and “Frasier.” A series of arrests for drunk driving and cocaine possession, beginning in 1988, threatened his career—particularly a 1990 arrest that culminated in a three-year sentence of probation and community service. The last public episode involved a 1996 car accident while intoxicated, after which he entered the Betty Ford Center for a 30-day stint.

“What you see is what you get with Kelsey,” Danson says. “But he was always professional, even when he was going through his hardest time. He wasn’t secretive about that stuff; he’s very much who he is.”

Pierce recalls that, even as the media storm built in 1996, Grammer approached it all head on: “He was always an open book,” Pierce says. “That’s part of his power. He’s a very courageous guy. He didn’t want to waste time hiding things. There was nothing that happened that we weren’t aware of. But we loved him and we were as supportive as we could be. I know the show helped him through that. No matter what else was going on, his craft was sacred to him. And he wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of that.”

Grammer has stayed out of trouble since then—“It’s been 15 years since I was pulled over for DUI,” he observes. When he sobered up, he also gave up tobacco: a cigarette habit, as well as a passion for cigars. Not that he doesn’t remember his years as a cigar connoisseur with fondness.

“I did enjoy Cuban Cohibas and several others,” he says. “There’s an art form to it. Smoking a cigar was taking a moment out of the day, usually in the evening, sitting in a bucolic environment, enjoying the taste of tobacco. But I decided to put some things behind me at a certain point. They weren’t the best thing for me, in terms of my health. Do I miss cigars? Sometimes.”

The only time his substance abuse ever seems to come up anymore is in articles about him: “And I think, ‘Dear God, do they have any idea how long ago that was?’ There are no longer substances that control me. I don’t think that’s the thrust of my identity any longer. I would like to believe that it is not the tragedies and challenges of my life that define me but rather what I have accomplished in spite of them. That to me is a far more compelling narrative. If I were to run for office, it wouldn’t even be an issue.”

Grammer has, in fact, contemplated the idea of seeking public office: “I’ve thought about it seriously,” he says. “But then I’d have to quit acting. And I love being an actor. I’m not quite finished with that yet.” Grammer’s marital life has been almost as public as his personal struggles. He married for the fourth time in 2011—to Kayte Walsh, a British flight attendant—and, in mid-2012 at the age of 57, became a father for the fifth time. His children range in age from 29 years to seven months—and he has a year-old grandson.

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