A versatile and prolific character actor of stage, film and television, John Mahoney made a living playing gruff, hardscrabble, blue collar characters before making himself a household name as Marty Crane on the hit sitcom "Frasier" (NBC, 1993-2004). Prior to his Emmy-nominated success on the show, Mahoney had a late and rather unorthodox entry into professional acting after going through an early midlife crisis in his 30s. He dropped his job as a magazine editor and began taking acting classes in Chicago, which quickly led to making his professional debut in David Mamet's "The Water Engine" (1977). Mahoney rapidly developed as a strong and highly-sought character performer who specialized in cranky authority figures. Eventually, he triumphed on stages in New York, which led to prominent feature roles in "Say Anything" (1989) and "Barton Fink" (1991). But a fortuitous guest shot on "Cheers" (NBC, 1982-1993) led to a friendship with Kelsey Grammer and the role on "Frasier" that turned him into star, giving Mahoney ample opportunity to display his talents in a wide variety of film and television projects for the rest of his career. Nahoney's death from throat cancer on February 4, 2018 at the age of 77 was greeted with sadness from friends, fellow actors and fans around the world.
John Mahoney was born on June 20, 1940 in Blackpool, England, where his family had been forced to flee during the Nazi bombing of their hometown of Manchester during the Battle of Britain in World War II. Once the war was over, the family moved back to Manchester where the 10-year-old son of a baker and an amateur pianist began performing as a member of the Stratford Children's Theatre. When he was 11, he traveled with his family to the United States, where one of his sisters had moved after marrying a U.S. serviceman, taking up residence in Illinois. Astonished by the material wealth and open sunshine - compared to bleak post-war England - Mahoney dreamed of eventually living there. So after he graduated high school, Mahoney immigrated to America and joined the U.S. Army when he was 19. Determined to fit in rather than stand out, he worked hard ridding himself of his Manchester accent, which he did by spelling words phonetically and drilling himself. After leaving the military, he went to Quincy College, but transferred to Western Illinois University to study English.
With degree in hand, Mahoney embarked on a life as a college professor while taking on work as a medical orderly. But he was less than satisfied with his career and became the editor of a hospital periodical for a spell. He remained dissatisfied, despite having a good job and living out his dream of being in the United States. So at 37, he tried to regain his youthful passion by enrolling in acting classes at Chicago's St. Nicholas Theatre after quitting his job, selling off his personal effects and downgrading his lifestyle. It was there that he met David Mamet, who cast the actor in his early play, "The Water Engine." Mahoney also appeared in a production of David Rudkin's "Ashes" alongside a rising John Malkovich, who later brought him on board his newly formed Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 1979. After appearing in productions of "Taking Steps" and "Death of a Salesman," Mahoney appeared in his first feature, "Mission Hill" (1982), which he followed with his series debut on an episode of "Chicago Story" (NBC, 1982).
Following more television and film work on projects like "The Killing Floor" (PBS, 1984), "First Steps" (CBS, 1985) and "Code of Silence" (1985), Mahoney gained considerable notice with his New York stage debut in the Steppenwolf's off-Broadway production of "Orphans" (1985), which earned him a Theatre World Award and a Clarence Derwent Award for Most Promising Actor. The next year, he rose to fame with a Tony-winning performance as the melancholy zoo keeper in John Guare's "The House of Blue Leaves" (1986). Back on the big screen, he delivered memorable performances as a champion aluminum siding salesman who suffers a heart attack - and a change of heart - in Barry Levinson's "Tin Men" (1987) and as the philandering communications professor who befriends Olympia Dukakis in "Moonstruck" (1987). In "Eight Men Out" (1988), director John Sayles' exquisite look back at the Black Sox scandal, he played Kid Gleason, manager of the Chicago White Sox team accused of being bribed by the mob to throw the 1919 World Series. He appealed himself to the Gen-X crowd as a worried father whose valedictorian daughter (Ione Skye) falls for an irresponsible slacker (John Cusack) in "Say Anything" (1989).
By the 1990s, Mahoney went from novice actor to a well-respected and award-winning performer whose career was about to be taken to the next level. After his first regular series role as a rescue unit commander on the short lived action drama "H.E.L.P." (ABC, 1990), Mahoney delivered a sharp performance as a drunken Faulkner-like writer in the Coen Brothers' "Barton Fink" (1991). Meanwhile, he starred in a television adaptation of "The Water Engine" (TNT, 1992), while landing episodes of "The Human Factor" (CBS, 1992) and "Cheers." Mahoney provided sturdy support as a Secret Service superior of Clint Eastwood in "In the Line of Fire" (1993) and as Bruce Willis' cop dad in "Striking Distance" (1993). Thanks to his appearance on "Cheers," where he hit it off immediately with co-star Kelsey Grammer, Mahoney landed the role that made him a household name, playing Marty Crane, the retired, cranky policeman father of Dr. Frasier Crane (Grammer) on the multi-award winning series, "Frasier." As the unrefined, irascible everyman character, Mahoney was pitch-perfect acting against the pomposity of Grammer and David Hyde Pierce for well over a decade. Such was his appeal and unparalleled comic timing that Mahoney was nominated for supporting actor Emmys in 1999 and 2003.
Over the course of his 11 seasons on "Frasier," Mahoney was able to maintain a vibrant career both on stage and screen. After a small role in "Reality Bites" (1994), he was the fast-talking editor of the fictional paper Manhattan Argus in the Coen Brothers' ode to 1930s screwball comedy, "The Hudsucker Proxy" (1994). Following a relatively minor turn in "The American President" (1995), Mahoney was a prosecuting attorney for the state whose friendship with a murder suspect causes friction with a hot shot defense attorney (Richard Gere) in the courtroom thriller, "Primal Fear" (1996). In "She's the One" (1996), writer-director-star Ed Burns' follow-up to "The Brothers McMullen" (1995), Mahoney amplified his "Frasier" character to play the gruff, insensible father of two sons trying to outgrow their old man's lessons out of love and happiness. Mahoney began a flourishing side career as a voiceover actor, lending his gravely tones to animated features like ""Antz" (1998). Meanwhile, he made a triumphant return to Steppenwolf Theatre Company, starring in a revival of "The Man Who Came to Dinner" (1998), which transferred briefly to London, marking his stage debut in his native country.
Continuing with his animation work, Mahoney voiced General Rogard in "The Iron Giant" (1999) and Preston B. Whitmore in "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" (2001). Back in live action, he co-starred as a restaurant own who gives advice to a group of young gay West Hollywood denizens struggling to find happiness in "The Broken Hearts Club" (2000). Following a reprisal of Whitmore for the straight-to-video release, "Atlantis: Milo's Return" (2003), Mahoney and the rest of his cast mates wound down their eleventh season on "Frasier" with a triumphant final year that culminated in more Emmy awards, making it at that time the most decorated sitcom in television history. After leaving the show, Mahoney continued working steadily, appearing in the made-for-television movie "Fathers and Sons" (Showtime, 2005) and playing a drag queen on an episode of "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009). He had a small part in the disregarded Ed Burns comedy "The Groomsmen" (2006), which he followed with a supporting turn as the father of a widower and newspaper columnist (Steve Carell) in "Dan in Real Life" (2007).
Back on television, he made a brief appearance at the end of season two of "Burn Notice" (USA, 2007-13), playing the nameless head of Management, which set up a recurring character for the following season. He next played a CEO who finds life slipping away from him on the critically acclaimed drama, "In Treatment" (HBO, 2008-10). Aside from a recurring role on the sitcom "Hot In Cleveland" (TVLand 2010-15), starring his "Frasier" co-star Jane Leeves, Mahoney largely retired from acting in the 2010s. John Mahoney died of throat cancer at the age of 77 on February 4, 2018.
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Enrolled in classes at Chicago's St. Nicholas Theater (co-founded by David Mamet), met John Malkovich
Made professional stage debut in "The Water Engine" in Chicago at age 37
Joined the Steppenwolf Theatre Company; appeared in Steppenwolf production of "The Hothouse", "Taking Steps", "Death of a Salesman"
Made his film debut in "Mission Hill"
Made his series debut as a cop on "Chicago Story"
TV-movie debut, "Listen to Your Heart" (CBS)
Made his New York stage debut in "Orphans"
Won a Tony Award for his performance in John Guare's "The House of Blue Leaves"
Was cast in the award winning "Moonstruck," starring Cher
Played Ione Skye's father in Cameron Crowe's "Say Anything"
Played retired police office/father Martin "Marty" Crane on the long running NBC series, "Frasier"; earned Golden Globe (1994, 2001) and Emmy (1999, 2003) nominations for Best Supporting Actor
Had a small role as a diva talk show host who torments Winona Ryder's character in "Reality Bites"
Returned to Steppenwolf to star in revival of "The Man Who Came to Dinner"; production transferred to London for brief run, marking Mahoney's London stage debut
Co-starred in the L.A. premiere of the stage drama "The Weir"
Co-starred in the Broadway revival of the play "Prelude to a Kiss"
Co-starred as the father of Steve Carell and Dane Cook in "Dan in Real Life"
Joined the cast of provocative HBO series "In Treatment"
Appeared in the coming-of-age drama "Flipped," based on Wendelin Van Draanen's novel of the same name
Had a recurring role on "Hot in Cleveland"
Appeared in his final screen role on an episode of "Foyle's War"