Remembering John Mahoney: The Heart of Frasier

As sad as it is to have lost the great John Mahoney at all, there’s something particularly painful for it to have been on Super Bowl Sunday—a day undeniably significant to his sport-loving on-screen alter ego on Frasier, Martin Crane. As I’ve mentioned multiple times on this blog, Frasier is especially significant to me. As someone who blogs about sitcoms and truly, sincerely believes in them as an art form worthy of careful analysis, I’m always hesitant to label one sitcom as my absolute favorite. Still, if I’m being completely honest—and attempt to also consider “favorite” right alongside words like “quality”, “well-written”, and “rewatchable” then, yes, it probably is Frasier. And so it’s definitely jarring to watch the show, which is so often a source of comfort and laughter for me, knowing its twinkle-eyed patriarch has passed.

Martin

Martin has never been the character I identify with most (that would be Frasier or, sometimes, Roz and Daphne), but the fact that he was consistently the show’s beating heart is not lost on me. It’s impossible to imagine the show’s eleven-year run without his quiet strength, gentle humor, and unrivaled ability to bring his sometimes-haughty sons (Niles and Frasier) down a few pegs—all while still loving them unconditionally.

One of the series’ most central themes is the complicated relationship between Frasier and Martin, who continually grapple with their differing personalities and interests all while living under the same roof. Perhaps one of the greatest takeaways from the show, as exhibited by the Frasier/Martin relationship, is the lesson that someone you love doesn’t have to fully mirror your personality in order to still be a kindred spirit. While Frasier’s love of opera and sherry contrasts Marty’s preference for football and beer, the show made a point of demonstrating that the two men were in fact very similar in the ways that matter most—especially their good hearts and strong sense of morality.

Mahoney’s portrayal of Marty always felt real and relatable, enhancing an already touching or funny scene with his palpable sincerity or sly smile. Whether he was briefly fooling his sons into thinking that they were descended from Russian royalty, pranking Frasier about the “Fine Arts Forgery Department”, or working to fulfill his lifelong dream to write a song for Frank Sinatra, it’s impossible to not smile while he is onscreen.

Following Mahoney’s passing, Kelsey Grammer (Frasier) tweeted: “He was my father. I loved him.” Indeed, so too was Mahoney come to be an additional father figure to all who know and (re)watch the series. Here’s to you, John; I’ll be sure to drink a Ballantine in your honor.

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