Frasier is one of the most popular and successful sitcoms in history. When the comedy went off the air in 2004, an astounding 33 million tuned in for its emotional finale. With 37 Emmy awards, the series held the record for most Emmy wins by a scripted series until HBO’s Game of Thrones took the crown in 2016. One might assume the brilliant, tight-knit cast of Frasier was living the dream while bringing TV’s smartest scripts to life, but as is all too common in the entertainment industry, painful stories and scandals lurked just behind the scenes. Here are some of the dark secrets the stars of Frasier tried to hide.
Grammer endured violent family tragedies
Kelsey Grammer is best known for portraying the flawed and pompous, yet iconic and lovable Dr. Frasier Crane for 20 consecutive years across three TV series: Cheers (1982-93), Frasier (1993-2004), and a brief appearance on Wings (1990-97). Despite his televised success, Grammer’s personal life was plagued by tragedy.
In 1968, when Grammer was 13 years old, his estranged father was fatally shot by a cab driver. As the Emmy-winner explained during his 2001 E! Celebrity Profile (via the New York Post), "A man who was proven to be, at least in court, of questionable sanity, I suppose, lit a ring of fire around his house and as my father came down to investigate what was going on, he shot him…several times and, uh, dad died."
In 1975, violence struck again when Grammer’s 18-year-old sister, Karen, was abducted, raped, and fatally stabbed 42 times by "spree killer" Freddie Glenn and two accomplices, according to Vanity Fair. The actor identified her body. In 2009, Glenn was up for parole—which Grammer successfully opposed. "I miss her in my bones," he wrote to the parole board (via Vanity Fair). "I was her big brother. I was supposed to protect her—I could not… It very nearly destroyed me."
In 1980, Grammer’s half brothers, Stephen and Billy, died in a scuba accident off St. Thomas. According to People, when Billy failed to surface, Stephen dove in to try to find him but "suffered a fatal embolism during an improper ascent. Billy’s body was never recovered." His mother believes "he was eaten by sharks."
Grammer’s substance abuse, legal woes threatened his work
In the two decades following his sister’s murder, Grammer turned to drugs and alcohol and faced trouble with the law.
As the actor admitted during his E! Celebrity Profile (via the New York Post), his addiction was exacerbated by his newfound fame after joining the cast of Cheers in 1984. "I was drinking too much, I was doing too much cocaine. That was mostly it. Pretty much I was just having fun," he said. "I was in my early 30s. I was making enough money to do pretty much anything I really wanted to do and I did that."
According to People, Grammer was arrested for DUI in 1987. The following year, he was arrested again, this time for cocaine possession. The actor described his subsequent stint behind bars as "the best, most restful 11 days I’ve had in years."
David Hyde Pierce struggled to shield his sexuality
David Hyde Pierce is best known for playing Frasier’s equally neurotic yet endearing younger brother, Dr. Niles Crane. A fan favorite for his character’s deadpan delivery and longtime adoration of Jane Leeves’ Daphne Moon, Pierce surprised fans when he publicly came out at the 2007 Tony Awards.
While accepting the Tony for best actor in a musical for his work in Curtains in 2007, Pierce thanked his longtime partner, television producer and writer Brian Hargrove. "Because it’s 24 years of listening to your damn notes—that’s why I’m up here tonight," Pierce said.
As he told The View (via Us Weekly) in 2009, "Brian and I always kept a low profile. We didn’t hide our lives. We got married very quietly…" However, Pierce’s frustration at Proposition 8, which temporarily threatened the legality of his marriage in California, inspired the actor to become a more vocal advocate for LGBTQ rights.
"I tried for years to live my life and let that be the statement. But in the last year that wasn’t good enough for me. It stopped being honest… It just wasn’t enough," he told Time in 2010. "I wanted all those years to make the statement live and let live, to not have to broadcast your life. The reality is, when you are a celebrity you really don’t have that option."
John Mahoney hated being famous
John Mahoney was best known for playing Frasier and Niles’ gruff ex-detective dad, Marty Crane, who couldn’t be more different from his persnickety sons. In real life, Mahoney never quite grew as comfortable with fame as his co-stars.
"I come from a secretive Irish family," he told the Chicago Tribune in 1996. "I cherish my privacy." When Frasier ended, the actor left Hollywood to pursue a quieter work life. He returned to his native Illinois and settled in a suburb of Chicago. He continued to work—mainly in the city’s famous Steppenwolf Theatre. "It is quiet here," the actor said. "I get bored out of my mind in L.A. It’s such an industry town. Here I have old friends who aren’t in the business. I can walk to all sorts of good places where the waiters and waitresses don’t want me to read their screenplays."
Mahoney confessed to being "a bit of a hermit," but told The Guardian in 2002 that "home is where the heart is." Forget those grand red carpet events. Mahoney said he was happier spending his free time dining out, going to the movies, fishing, and playing cards.
Grammer hit rock bottom and jeopardized the show
In 1996, Grammer was allegedly driving under the influence when he lost control of his car near his home in Malibu, Calif.
"After I rolled the [Dodge] Viper, that’s when I realized that I’d done something… I actually spoke to [then-girlfriend] Camille on the phone after that and said, ‘I’ve done something I’m really ashamed of and I’m embarrassed about and I gotta get some help,’" Grammer said during his E! Celebrity Profile (via the New York Post). Grammer checked into the Betty Ford Clinic and began to turn his life around.
The chaos surrounding the incident forced the sitcom’s writers to completely rework the show without their leading man. According to Mental Floss, the Season 4 episode called "Head Games" was "quickly rewritten to feature Niles hosting his brother’s radio program while Frasier was away at a convention. Grammer filmed his bit for the intro at a later date and it was tacked on to the show before broadcast."
The cast led an intervention
Though Grammer’s complex personal life never severely affected Frasier, his fellow cast members were well-aware of his troubles and decided to stage an intervention.
Mahoney recalled the experience on Today in 2004. "It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life because basically, it’s kicking a dead horse," he said. "It’s going to somebody’s house whom you love, who’s down, and just beating him down even further for his own good. And it was horrifying."
Peri Gilpin, who played Frasier’s sharp-tongued producer Roz Doyle, agreed. "We were taught not to say anything shaming or embarrassing, just to sort of state the facts. Try to keep our emotions back and be honest."
Production on Frasier shut down for a month when Grammer agreed to seek help. Two years later, the now-sober actor won his third Emmy for best actor in a comedy. Grammer delivered a moving acceptance speech. "To a very special, small group of people that came to me a while back in a very dark time in my life and told me that there was a way out… I love you, and thank you."
Gilpin had a rough start
Only a few days into production on Frasier, the role of Roz was suddenly recast from Friends’ Lisa Kudrow to Gilpin.
Casting Director Jeff Greenberg told Entertainment Weekly that Kudrow’s version of the radio show producer was a bit "daffy." He added, "You could see Kelsey [as Frasier] was going to be able to railroad her and do what he wanted…there was not going to be the conflict there." The team reportedly brought in Peri because "she could go toe-to-toe with Kelsey."
Gilpin was soon tested both on-screen and off. As the actress revealed during An All-Star Tribute to James Burrows in 2016, she and Grammer struggled to collaborate early on. She recalled working on a comedic bit in which Frasier and Roz perform a silly Monday morning cheer. "I wasn’t sure how far to take it. You know how in the beginning you’re trying to figure out your character and who they are? So, I was standing there with Kelsey and Jimmy, and Jimmy goes, ‘Well, what’re you gonna do?’ And I was like, ‘Well…,’ and Kelsey goes, ‘Ugh, I wish Kirstie [Alley, Grammer’s Cheers co-star] was here.’" Yikes!
Gilpin eventually figured out a humorous way to play her part—and can now laugh off that tense scene.
Mahoney’s war-torn childhood in England was bleak
Although you’d never guess from his Americanized accent, Mahoney was born in Manchester, England and grew up during WWII. Needless to say, his childhood was fraught with hardship. "When I was growing up there, I was playing in the air-raid shelters and bombed-out buildings," he told The Guardian. "I associate Manchester with need and want and ration books…with dirt and smoke and smog and fog. I know all that’s gone now, but that’s what stays in my head."
Life at home was just as bleak, particularly due to his parents’ unhappy marriage. "I remember the bruising silences," Mahoney said. "My dad would come home from work, and he wouldn’t even say hello to my mother—it just never occurred to him—and he’d take off his coat and go into the parlor, and he’d start playing Schumann. My mother would be cooking dinner and she’d say, ‘Reg, dinner’s ready,’ and he’d get up and they might exchange three or four words over the table, and then he’d go back into the parlor."
"It was almost like two strangers," he said, "except when they did get to each other, when they’d have some big, pretty terrible arguments."
Pierce’s fight against Alzheimer’s disease is personal
Pierce has been a fierce advocate for Alzheimer’s research for more than 20 years. After losing his grandfather and father to the disease, he began working closely with the Alzheimer’s Association. "I think it’s a tragedy for the family," he told talk show host Larry King in 2011. "It’s a tragedy for the person who gets it."
Pierce told NBC News that his partnership with the association began by "just showing up as a celebrity at their memory walk in Los Angeles back when I was on Frasier," but he soon got more involved, spending time in Washington to advocate for the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, a federal initiative that makes "the fight against Alzheimer’s a national priority in the same way that HIV/AIDS and heart disease has been."
The actor received the Isabelle Stevenson Award at the 2010 Tony Awards in honor of his humanitarian efforts. "My work with the association has taught me that ‘I’ll never forget’ is a phrase, it’s a vow, that none of us can honestly make," he said during his speech. "I promise you, in honor of my family, the Alzheimer’s Association, my grandfather, and my dad, I will be grateful for this honor, I will remember this night as long as memory serves."
Dan Butler shocked fans when he came out
Dan Butler played Frasier and Roz’s chauvinistic and very heterosexual co-worker Bob "Bulldog" Briscoe on the show, so he shocked fans when he came out publicly as a gay man early on in the show’s run.
Though he told Oasis Magazine that he came out to his family in his early 20s, he wasn’t vocal about his sexuality publicly until much later in life, when he starred in a one-man play called The Only Thing Worse You Could Have Told Me in 1994. "I took about ten different characters. It was just processing what gay means, if anything," Butler explained. "And all the different characters would contradict one another. Just tossing it up, without a resolution." His work garnered critical acclaim across the country, even playing in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Ind. "After that, I said, ‘This is complete.’"
Butler has since become an activist for LGBTQ rights. "I’ve been politically active in the past with the Human Rights Campaign and Act Up," he told HuffPost in 2012. "Right when the Trevor Crisis Line formed I worked the lines for Trevor and The Suicide Prevention Center in Los Angeles for about six years."
He lives with his husband, acting teacher and director Richard Waterhouse, in Vermont.
Grammer’s love life was turbulent
Grammer’s love life has more plot twists than most TV shows. His first marriage to Broadway dancer Doreen Alderman ended in divorce in 1990, though they welcomed daughter Spencer in 1983. Two years later, he married Leigh-Anne Csuhany, a former exotic dancer.
In his 1996 autobiography So Far…, Grammer claims Csuhany grew verbally and physically abusive. "She’d spit in my face. Slap me. Punch me. Kick me. Break glasses over my head. Break windows. Tear up pictures of my loved ones. Threaten to kill me, kill herself," he wrote (via the Irish Independent). Grammer filed for an annulment nine months in, and then a pregnant Csuhany allegedly attempted suicide by swallowing five bottles of Tylenol pills. She survived, but their unborn child did not. "It was very difficult," Grammer said in his book. "I thought I was going slowly insane. That my mind might explode."
According to the Daily Mail, as that marriage crumbled, Grammer had an affair with make-up artist Barrie Buckner and a daughter named Greer.
Grammer met his third wife, former Playboy model Camille Donatacci, on a blind date in 1996, and they wed the following year. They had a daughter, Mason Olivia, and a son, Jude Gordon, before Camille filed for divorce after 13 years, citing "irreconcilable differences."
At the time of this writing, the actor is happily married to British flight attendant Kayte Walsh, who is about 25 years his junior. They tied the knot in February 2011, just two weeks after his divorce with wife no. 3 was finalized. They have three children together: daughter Faith Evangeline Elisa, and sons Kelsey Gabriel Elias and Auden James Ellis.
Mahoney was too scarred for romance
Mahoney was so deeply affected by his parents’ terrible marriage that he never settled down himself. "I was never very mature in my relationships with women. First sign of conflict, I was gone. Wouldn’t discuss it, because I was afraid it would lead to an argument," he told The Guardian.
"And it’s weird," he said. "Because my brothers and sisters all have great marriages. I took the fear of marriage from my parents’ relationship, because I didn’t want to end up in a relationship like that, whereas my brothers and sisters learnt a lesson from it and made sure they didn’t carry it on into their own marriages."
When TimeOut asked the actor about his romantic life—or lack-thereof—in 2008, Mahoney answered with a laugh. "Yeah, it doesn’t exist for me anymore. I think that’s dead and buried." His solo existence has been impacted by more than just a stormy childhood. "Twenty-three years ago I had cancer of the colon," he said. "I had to have major surgery, and I have a colostomy. I really couldn’t have sex after that." Mahoney added, "I’m very happy by myself and with my friends, but no, I’m definitely not involved with anybody. Nor do I ever look to be."