John Mahoney, the Cantankerous Dad on 'Frasier,' Dies at 77

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John Mahoney

The Tony-winning actor also appeared in such films as 'Tin Men,' 'Moonstruck' and 'Eight Men Out.'

John Mahoney, best known as Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce's irascible dad, Martin Crane, on Frasier, has died. He was 77.

An Englishman, Mahoney died Sunday in his adopted hometown of Chicago, publicist Paul Martino told The Hollywood Reporter. The cause of death was complications from cancer.

Playing a curmudgeonly retired cop, Mahoney received two supporting actor Emmy nominations for his work on the 1993-2004 NBC hit.

Grammer paid tribute to his TV dad upon news of Mahoney's death: "He was my father. I loved him." 

A former Midwestern medical-magazine editor who quit his day job at nearly 40 to study acting in Chicago, Mahoney had taught English at Western Illinois University in the early 1970s.

He became a fixture at Chicago's fabled Steppenwolf Theatre — he was an ensemble member for 39 years — and ventured to the New York stage, where he distinguished himself in an off-Broadway production of Orphans, for which he received a Theatre World Award.

Mahoney won a 1986 Tony Award for best featured actor in a play for his performance in 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' Prelude to a Kiss.

In movies, Mahoney garnered recognition in Barry Levinson's Tin Men (1987), playing Richard Dreyfuss' business partner. The same year, he was memorable in Moonstruck as a depressed college professor who regularly had affairs with his students.

His other film credits include a performance as a trial judge in Suspect (1987), as the manager of the White Sox in Eight Men Out (1988) and as a protective father beleaguered by John Cusack's interest in his daughter in Say Anything (1989).

Although he was offered numerous series after Frasier, Mahoney moved back to Illinois in 2003 and began acting again with the Steppenwolf company, first starring as Tom Garrison in I Never Sang for My Father. The following year, he played Sir in The Dresser.

"John was a beloved member of our Steppenwolf family who was known for his extraordinary kindness, generosity of spirit and quick smile," the theater said in a statement. "He performed in more than 30 Steppenwolf productions — from his breakthrough role in Orphans in 1985 to most recently in The Rembrandt this past September. John’s impact on this institution, on Chicago theater, and the world of arts and entertainment is great and will endure."

Mahoney's dulcet warble was recognizable in voice work on such animated films as Antz (1998), The Iron Giant (1999) and Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001).

John Mahoney was born on June 20, 1940, in Blackpool, England, where his family had been evacuated following a Nazi bombing of Manchester. He developed an early interest in acting, joining the Stretford Youth Theatre.

After World War II, he ventured to Illinois, where his older sister lived as a war bride. He studied at Quincy University and, to speed up his citizenship application, enlisted in the U.S. Army and, not surprisingly, lost his British accent.

(He could readily call up that accent, though, as when he tweaked Daphne Moon (Jane Leeves), his English therapist and housekeeper, on Frasier.)

In Chicago, Mahoney quickly distinguished himself, winning roles in such works as The Misanthrope, The Price, What the Butler Saw and The Water Engine. In 1977, he met actor John Malkovich, a founder of the Steppenwolf Theatre, and was invited by him to join the troupe.

At Steppenwolf, Mahoney thrived, performing in such productions as The Hothouse, And a Nightingale Sang, Loose Ends, Of Mice and Men, Balm in Gilead and Death of a Salesman.

Fittingly, one of Mahoney's first TV credits was for a part on NBC's Chicago Story in 1982. More recently, he had a recurring role as Betty White's love interest on Hot in Cleveland.

His film résumé also included The Russia House (1990), Love Hurts (1990), Barton Fink (1991), In the Line of Fire (1993), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), Reality Bites (1994), The American President (1995), She's the One (1996) and Dan in Real Life (2007).