When John Mahoney passed away in February 2018, tributes flooded in from co-stars, fellow celebrities and fans of the Frasier star. After the actor’s death, however, the full extent of the health problems he battled behind the scenes became abundantly clear.
And if there was ever someone who proved that it’s never too late to turn your life around, it was Mahoney. Indeed, while many performers typically begin their entertainment careers at young ages, the much-loved British actor didn’t start acting until his late 30s.
Mahoney was born back in 1940, however, during a period when war raged across Europe. Specifically, he came into the world in the English seaside resort of Blackpool; his family had fled there from Manchester after Nazi bombing had devastated their home town.
But while Mahoney and his family would eventually make their way back to Manchester, it would be a trip to the United States that ultimately proved life-changing to the future star. Mahoney decided he wanted to live in the U.S. for good, in fact. And with his sister sponsoring him, he was officially granted permission to reside there after he had joined the U.S. Armed Forces.
Then, after his stint in the Army, Mahoney spent time teaching and editing a medical journal. His quest for job satisfaction eventually led him in a quite different direction, however. In short, he wanted to become an actor, and he ditched his other work to do so – a move that was arguably a little out of character. Indeed, in 2011 Mahoney would tell Indiana newspaper The Times, “I don’t know where I ever got the guts to quit, because I was never that daring.”
In the end, though, the move paid off. Following a period at Chicago’s St. Nicholas Theater under the tutelage of David Mamet, Mahoney landed roles in ’80s films and TV shows such as Tin Men, Moonstruck and Eight Men Out. He even landed a Tony Award in 1987 for his performance in the play The House of Blue Leaves.
Then, of course, Mahoney took on the part for which he’s arguably most famed today – that of cranky father Martin Crane in sitcom Frasier. First aired in 1993, Frasier would go on to become one of the most critically admired and commercially successful comedy shows of its time.
The sitcom focused on the life and career of irritable but endearing radio psychiatrist Frasier Crane and his hilariously complicated relationships with friends and family. Perhaps key to its appeal, moreover, was the chemistry between Frasier and Mahoney’s character Martin Crane.
And with its sharp wit, ingenious dialogue and lovable characters, Frasier won over audiences worldwide. It was a hit with critics, too, with the show picking up 37 Emmy Awards during its almost 11-year run.
Even as a fully fledged TV star, though, Mahoney chose largely to keep details of his off-camera life under wraps. And it was only on occasion that he divulged any personal information; in a 2008 interview, for example, he revealed that surgery he had received for colon cancer in the ’80s had left him feeling incapable of having sex. As it turned out, cancer would be a factor in his death in 2018.
That’s because the 77-year-old had been dealing with throat cancer prior to his death. In February 2018 TMZ also revealed that Mahoney had lung cancer and brain disease; additionally, he had to contend with diabetes and seizures before his passing.
And according to TMZ, the actor had also endured kidney disease, with the combination of his various health concerns becoming too much for him to deal with in the end. Before his death, though, Mahoney had exhibited a defiant attitude towards cancer in particular, as he explained in an October 2017 interview with Fox News.
As the Frasier star said to the network, “When I was told I had cancer, I said ‘I don’t care. Let’s do whatever we need to do to beat it. It’s not going to get me.’ And the doctors have always said that my attitude had a great deal to do with my cure.”
Mahoney added in the Fox News interview, “I just absolutely refused to be beaten by [cancer]. It sounds like I’m daring fate. But it’s the truth. It made me work ten times harder, ten times more. I turned nothing down and instead tried to do almost everything I was offered to make up for the years that I hadn’t been doing it when I should have. I think that had quite a bit to do with my recovery. I did recover.” Of course, though, the disease eventually returned.
And, touchingly, Mahoney’s Frasier co-stars were some of the first to respond to their dear friend’s passing, with Kelsey Grammer simply stating on Twitter, “He was my father. I loved him.” Roz Doyle actress Peri Gilpin also joined in with the tributes, writing on the same social media site, “Watch Moonstruck, Say Anything and/or Frasier, or anything you can with him in it, and raise a glass to John. Remember him well.”
Frasier’s casting director Jeff Greenberg also spoke in glowing terms about Mahoney, stating, “The great John Mahoney passed away today at age 77. I’ve not known a kinder man nor more brilliant actor. We were all blessed to have spent 11 glorious years together.”
And other celebrities were quick to pay their respects to Mahoney, too. John Cusack was among them, and he took to Twitter to say, “[Mahoney] always said it took him a long time to find out what he loved, and he loved performing. He was so happy to be there. He made everyone around him better and happier each day. Blessed to know him.”
Meanwhile, fellow comedy actor Ben Stiller reflected on his Twitter account, “John Mahoney has moved on. A great actor. Incredible wicked sense of humor. And someone who made a huge difference in my life and many others.” From these and other reactions, then, it’s clear that Mahoney will be missed by many.
And it’s heartwarming to know that Mahoney finally did get to live out his dream of acting – even if he did downplay his own abilities in the field. For example, as he told The Guardian in 2002, “Believe me, I’m an aberration. With me, it was all the stars aligning at exactly the right time. There was so much luck involved.”
Mahoney’s fans would probably disagree somewhat with that assertion, however. After all, the star’s many bravura performances over the years prove that he had enough talent to go the distance, too.