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An ingratiating actor who projected an air of easygoing charm in both comedic and dramatic roles, Ted Danson reigned at the top of the television ratings heap for over a decade as Sam Malone, the lothario ex-pitcher-turned-bartender on the hit sitcom "Cheers" (NBC, 1982-1993). The show's popularity translated into occasional film work for Danson, most notably "Three Men and a Baby" (1987) and its 1990 sequel. But it was the small screen that offered him the widest variety of projects, from a father accused of incest in the television movie "Something About Amelia" (1984) to Jonathan Swift's famed explorer in "Gulliver's Travels" (1996). None of his subsequent attempts at a series matched "Cheers" in terms of popularity, but he found some of his best roles guest starring as himself on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO, 2000- ) and the first season of "Damages" (FX, 2007- ), on which he played Arthur Frobisher, a manipulative CEO desperately trying to fend off a ruthless prosecutor (Glenn Close). Thanks to that role, Danson enjoyed a return to critical acclaim while opening doors to other projects, including the HBO comedy "Bored to Death" (2009- ) and the long-running hit series "CSI: Crime Scene...
An ingratiating actor who projected an air of easygoing charm in both comedic and dramatic roles, Ted Danson reigned at the top of the television ratings heap for over a decade as Sam Malone, the lothario ex-pitcher-turned-bartender on the hit sitcom "Cheers" (NBC, 1982-1993). The show's popularity translated into occasional film work for Danson, most notably "Three Men and a Baby" (1987) and its 1990 sequel. But it was the small screen that offered him the widest variety of projects, from a father accused of incest in the television movie "Something About Amelia" (1984) to Jonathan Swift's famed explorer in "Gulliver's Travels" (1996). None of his subsequent attempts at a series matched "Cheers" in terms of popularity, but he found some of his best roles guest starring as himself on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO, 2000- ) and the first season of "Damages" (FX, 2007- ), on which he played Arthur Frobisher, a manipulative CEO desperately trying to fend off a ruthless prosecutor (Glenn Close). Thanks to that role, Danson enjoyed a return to critical acclaim while opening doors to other projects, including the HBO comedy "Bored to Death" (2009- ) and the long-running hit series "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (CBS, 2000- ), making him a more viable performer than ever before.
The son of a prominent archeologist and museum director, Danson was born Edward Bridge Danson III on Dec. 29, 1947 in San Diego, CA, and was raised near the Navajo reservation in Flagstaff, AZ. Tall and athletic at an early age, he excelled at basketball while at prep school in Connecticut, and would have graduated from Stanford had he not followed a prospective girlfriend into an audition. He transferred to Carnegie Mellon to study drama during his second year, graduating in 1968. The stage provided his earliest roles, including a stint with Joseph Papp's Shakespeare in the Park and as understudy in the Broadway production of Tom Stoppard's "The Real Inspector Hound," but commercials and print work - including a run as the "Aramis Man" for the popular cologne - provided a steady paycheck. From 1970 to 1975, he was married to stage and television actress Randy Danson; shortly after their marriage dissolved, he landed his first recurring TV job as heelish lawyer Tom Conway on the daytime soap "Somerset" (ABC, 1970-76). After the show's cancellation, he was a regular guest star on episodic series, which prompted a move to Los Angeles in 1978. By then, he had remarried to Casey Coates, with whom he had two daughters; Coates suffered a stroke during the birth of their first daughter, which required Danson to curtail some of his acting pursuits for six months while raising his newborn child single-handedly. The couple also adopted a second daughter, who experienced some public troubles later in life.
The following year, he landed his first movie role as the mournful and ill-fated Lt. James Campbell in Harold Becker's "The Onion Field" (1979). Danson received positive reviews, but returned to television guest shots immediately thereafter. Another career peak came in 1981, when he was cast as the glib district attorney in Lawrence Kasdan's terrific neo-noir, "Body Heat." Producer Glen Charles caught his performance in the film and tapped Danson to play Sam Malone on his new series - a comedy set in a Boston bar called "Cheers." A ratings disaster during its freshman year on the air, it eventually blossomed into one of NBC's biggest hits and one of only a handful of quintessential sitcom classics in the history of the medium. The show's sharp writing and terrific ensemble cast were among its many virtues, but few could ignore the chemistry between Danson and Shelly Long's uptight grad student-turned-waitress Diane Chambers, which boiled slowly for three seasons before blossoming into full-blown romance by the fourth season. Long left the show at the end of its fifth season in 1987 under a cloud of controversy - most notably allegations of bad blood between she and the rest of the cast - but time healed most of those wounds over the next two decades, particularly between she and Danson. The actor's testosterone-fueled, yet breezy delivery and charm made him very popular with fans, especially female viewers (many of whom were shocked when he revealed that he wore a hair piece on the series finale). Such was the popularity of Danson and his Sam Malone, he received two Emmys (in 1990 and 1993) and two Golden Globes (in 1989 and 1990). All in all, Danson was nominated 11 times for the Emmy and six for the Golden Globe.
Danson's popularity on "Cheers" allowed him considerable leverage to explore other roles on television as well as in film; among his best efforts outside the series were the uncomfortable incest movie-of-the-week, "Something About Amelia," which earned him a Emmy nod and a Golden Globe for his dramatic performance, as well as the blockbuster hit "Three Men and a Baby," which partnered him with fellow 1980s superstars Tom Selleck and Steve Guttenberg. Danson also received good notices as a married man who falls for another woman (Isabella Rosellini) in "Cousins" (1989), a charming remake of the French comedy "Cousin, Cousine" (1975). He also dabbled with serving as producer on several made-for-television movies, including the solid mystery "When the Bough Breaks" (1986) and the short-lived series "Down Home" (NBC, 1990-91).
By 1993, however, Danson's career found itself in the weeds. "Cheers" had rung the bell for last call to great fanfare that year, and despite the success of the "Three Men" movies, he was still Sam Malone in the minds of most Americans. His marriage to Coates was floundering as well, and many cringed when he began a very public romance with Whoopi Goldberg, his co-star in a DOA comedy called "Made in America" (1993), while still legally married. A subsequent appearance at a Friar's Roast for Goldberg, for which he donned blackface and ate watermelon, only cast him further adrift (the ensuing furor over his performance tended to ignore the fact that Goldberg herself had written much of the material). Danson, now divorced from his wife, dropped out of view for a few years, and popped up in harmless family fare like "Getting Even with Dad" (1994) and independent dramas like "Pontiac Moon" (1994). The latter production proved fateful for Danson, as it introduced him to acclaimed actress Mary Steenburgen, whom he would marry in 1995. Her relationship with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton kept Danson in the news courtesy of photo opportunities with President Bill Clinton, and the couple were frequent and public campaigners for the environment and other liberal endeavors.
Television offered a way back for Danson. He scored a substantial success as Lemuel Gulliver in an award-winning miniseries adaptation of "Gulliver's Travels" (1996), but stumbled with "Ink" (CBS, 1996-97), a much-publicized return to sitcoms, with Danson and Steenburgen playing divorced journalists who still carry a torch for one another (Danson also served as executive producer). "Becker" (CBS, 1998-2004) proved more popular, though the show aimed for easy targets in its story of an easily annoyed medico and his tolerant staff and friends. Danson also popped up in supporting turns for two high profile movies during this period; he was seen briefly in Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) and Lawrence Kasdan's comedy "Mumford," though neither appearance sparked a revival of his film career.
Though "Becker" kept him busy, Danson managed to find time to star in several TV movies, including a Secret Service agent involved in a controversy brewing over refused treatment to Gulf War vets in "Thanks of a Grateful Nation" (1998), a Satellite Award-nominated turn as psychic James Van Praagh in the creepy "Living with the Dead" (2002), and "It Must Be Love" (2004), a cute romantic comedy which afforded him screen time with Steenburgen. The couple also began appearing as themselves in Larry David's offbeat HBO comedy "Curb Your Enthusiasm;" Danson in particular seemed to enjoy playing the occasional foil to David's crotchety TV persona, and at times evinced a gleefulness not seen since his "Cheers" days.
After "Becker" closed down shop, Danson appeared in several high-profile television movies, including "Our Fathers" (2005), about the Roman Catholic abuse scandals, and "Knights of the South Bronx (2005), for which Danson earned a Screen Actors Guild nomination for his portrayal of an inner city teacher who inspires his students through chess. As expected, Danson returned to regular series work with "Help Me Help You" (ABC, 2006). The show, about a troubled therapist (Danson) and his patients, was axed mid-season due to low ratings, and a comedy feature, "The Amateurs" (2005) about small town citizens attempting to raise cash by shooting an adult film went unreleased until 2007.
That same year, Danson landed one of his best roles to date in "Damages" as Arthur Frobisher, an unscrupulous businessman who attempts to cover up a massive scheme to defraud his employees of their savings. A congenial family man on the surface, Frobisher shows his true colors by unleashing all manner of vicious schemes to keep the legal team, led by the ruthless Patty Hewes (Glenn Close), from uncovering his machinations. Critics hailed Danson's performance, which earned him a Golden Globe nomination in 2008. The busy actor also returned to the movies with several projects in 2008. He co-starred as Diane Keaton's husband in the comedy "Mad Money," lent his voice to an animated children's feature, "The Magic Seven" (2008), and reunited with Steenburgen onscreen in a supporting role in "Nobel Son" (2007). Meanwhile, Danson revived Arthur Frobisher for the second season of "Damages," which earned him an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series in 2009. Returning to comedy, Danson was one of the stars of "Bored to Death" (HBO, 2009- ), playing the party-going boss of a neurotic writer-turned-bungling private detective (Jason Schwartzman) who tries to solve mysteries to varying degrees of success. Back with "Damages" for the third season, Danson again earned an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his performance as Arthur Frobisher. On a late-career roll, Danson made entertainment headlines when it was announced that he would be replacing Laurence Fishburne as the new head of the fictional crime lab during the 12th season of the long-running forensic procedural "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (CBS, 2000- ). Much to the relief of his "Bored to Death" fans, the actor had no plans to leave the quirky comedy, and would accommodate the demands of both shows into his increasingly busy schedule.
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CAST: (feature film)
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Named "Discovery of the Year" by the Women's Press Association in 1983
About that infamous Friars Club Roast of Whoopi Goldberg: "We developed a kind of gallows humor about the attitude toward us. You know, the shame-on-you kind of attitude. I decided, 'Okay, you want to talk race? You want to talk sexuality?'
"I knew I was not Robin Williams or Billy Crystal. I could not do stand-up in that company. I'm an actor, I can do a performance piece, a little street theater. I came up with the idea and ran it by Whoopi, who had hysterics, and she said, 'I dare you.'
"It was brave, you know? ... It was me putting myself in an incredibly unsafe situation and plowing ahead. It was me, who so desperately cares what people think, putting myself in the situation where the whole world was throwing tomoatoes at me. [It] was incredibly good.
"I also knew that I pleased [Whoopi] and made her laugh." --Ted Danson quoted in Entertainment Weekly, June 17, 1994
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