The best television grump who ever sat in an ugly armchair (tied with Carroll O’Connor’s Archie Bunker), John Mahoney, Martin Crane from Frasier but known and loved from so many other film and theatre roles, has died, aged 77.
Late to the acting game, the former magazine editor and college teacher – lucky you, students at Western Illinois University – Mahoney became a fixture at Chicago’s fabled Steppenwolf Theatre and soon ventured to the New York stage, winning a Theatre World Award for the off-Broadway production of Orphans and a Tony Award in 1986 for his performance in a revival of John Guare’s The House of Blue Leaves.
Beasts of a certain age will remember his complicated dad role in 1989’s Say Anything, opposite John Cusack. His other larger film credits include the trial judge in Suspect (1987), a creepy college professor in Moonstruck, and as the manager of the (Black) White Sox in Eight Men Out (1988).
After Emmys and popular success, and sitting on that Frasier money, Mahoney moved back to Illinois in 2003 and went back to his love, theater, acting again with the legendary Steppenwolf company. In 2007, he was back on Broadway in a revival of Prelude to a Kiss.
Here’s something you might not have known – John Mahoney was actually English. Wow. Born in 1940, in war-troubled Blackpool, England, after World War II, he relocated with not much to predict his future success to Illinois, to join his older sister. That he eventually became a very Chicago actor, speaks to strength of the Steppenwolf tradition.
At Steppenwolf, with the ensemble that included John Malkovich and Gary Sinise, Mahoney was a key player, performing in productions such as And a Nightingale Sang, Loose Ends, Of Mice and Men, Balm in Gilead and the critically acclaimed Death of a Salesman.
This PCB writer got to see Mahoney costar with Frasier‘s pushy agent, the actress Harriet Sansom Harris, in a brilliant Steppenwolf-on-tour production of “The Man Who Came to Dinner” in London in 1998. The actor commanded the production, playing the aggrieved host driven mad by his unwanted houseguest. Mahoney was more than grumpiness, though, he was a guy you felt you actually kind of knew. If you ran into John Mahoney in a bar, he’d buy you a drink.
His film résumé includes 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).
A former ABC National, Dallas and Atlanta radio personality, Martina O'Boyle is now making movies and covering culture in London, Dublin, and as far in Europe as the cheapie flights will take her, for Pop Culture Beast.