Kelsey Grammer may be noted for his comedy skills, but off screen his life hasn’t been that funny. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the actor has been through more than his fair share of incredible tragedy. And owing to what Grammer has experienced, it’s remarkable that he can still smile at all – let alone raise chuckles in others.
Yet Grammer’s success may have helped temper at least some of the heartbreak. Famously, the star’s role as Dr. Frasier Crane in Cheers and its spin-off Frasier not only made the actor a household name, but it also earned him 11 Primetime Emmy Award nods – including four wins. The part made Grammer rich, too; from 2001 he was being paid $700,000 per episode of Frasier.
Interestingly, though, Grammer’s career-defining role came as the result of a huge piece of luck. You see, while Cheers’ creators had actually sought John Lithgow to portray Crane, the venerable actor ultimately wasn’t able to shoot the sitcom. After Mandy Patinkin put forward his old classmate Grammer instead, however, he nabbed the part. Then a six-episode character turned into a recurring one – and the rest is history.
Still, while Grammer’s professional life may have been marked by good fortune, IT stands in stark contrast to his personal life. Ever since the star was a child, in fact, he has been subjected to tragedy after tragedy that at one point sent him plummeting into a spiral of grief. Reportedly, Grammer’s grandfather even once told him that he believed the whole family was cursed.
And these troubles began for Grammer at a very early age. When he was just two years old, his parents, Sally and Frank, divorced, with the young boy and his sister, Karen, duly dispatched to New Jersey to live with their mom and grandparents. According to Grammer himself, his mother and grandmother didn’t get along too well during that time, either.
In 1997 Grammer and Sally spoke about that period of their lives to Us Weekly. The actor reminisced, “I think I learned to be funny by trying to make my mom laugh when I was little.” And Sally seemingly agreed. “[My son] wasn’t really a class clown, but he was always in front of the camera when my father was taking pictures,” she said.
In fact, Grammer considered his mother’s father, Gordon, to be basically his dad as well. But when he was just 11 years old, Gordon died of cancer – leaving his grandson understandably devastated. Grammer later explained to Us Weekly, “Gordon was pretty much my main influence, and then he was gone just like that.”
Then, two years after that period of sadness, there was another blow: Grammer’s father, Allen, was shot dead right outside his house in the Virgin Islands. The killer was subsequently ruled insane and has been in and out of psychiatric wards ever since. And in 2007 Grammer informed the Daily Express that the man who had slain his father was “walking around somewhere in South Carolina.”
But, unbelievably, yet more misfortune was to follow. In 1975 Grammer’s sister, Karen, who was only 18 years old, was raped and murdered by a man called Freddie Glenn. Glenn and his accomplice Michael Corbett killed five people during a spree of murders around Colorado Springs, with Karen being their most famous victim.
Grammer was the one who identified his sister’s body, while he also had the unenviable task of informing his mother of the terrible event. And to this day, Karen’s murder still hangs heavy over the actor’s life. In 2007 he revealed that he had blamed himself for not being able to save his sibling, telling the Daily Express, “It’s something that still resonates deeply for me. It took me years to forgive myself for that.”
But even that wasn’t the end of Grammer’s bad run of luck, as in 1980 he lost two half-brothers, Stephen and Billy, in a freak scuba-diving accident. Billy plunged into the water and didn’t resurface, leaving Stephen to go in after him – with both dying as a result. And although Stephen’s body was eventually found, Billy’s never was; it’s believed that his remains may have been eaten by sharks.
Grammer shared with the Daily Express, “Those early losses took a big bite out of any joy. I was 20. It was very hard. I was disconsolate. I tried to understand why people I loved died. Why did they have to suffer? There is no uplifting answer.” Unsurprisingly, he turned to drink and drugs to numb the pain.
And Grammer explained of the years after all the tragedies, “I was addicted to danger and dangerous girls, and it took me to things that were very destructive for me. I liked the addictions, but I got in too deep.” Indeed, he ended up going to prison for 30 days in 1990. “I probably would’ve died if I hadn’t stopped,” the star added of that period.
Furthermore, while Grammer’s co-stars on Cheers tried to encourage him away from substance abuse, they unfortunately had little success. The birth of a daughter, Spencer, with his first wife Doreen Alderman didn’t seem to help matters, either. And even as Grammer’s acting career skyrocketed with the advent of Frasier in 1993, he continued to struggle with drugs.
Allegedly, Grammer was also abused by his second wife Leigh-Anne Csuhany. The star wrote in his 1996 autobiography So Far…, “[Csuhany would] spit in my face, slap me, punch me, kick me, break glasses over my head, break windows, tear up pictures of my loved ones [and] threaten to [either] kill me [or] kill herself.”
And it seems that final alleged threat almost came to pass. In 1993 Cshuany, who was expecting Grammer’s child, tried to take her own life. Ultimately, she survived the attempt then, a few days later, aborted the pregnancy. Speaking about the situation, Grammer released a statement saying, “I am deeply saddened by the events leading to the loss of the unborn child.”
However, Grammer did end up having further children. In addition to Spencer, he has a daughter, Greer, whose mother is stylist Barrie Buckner. He also shares two other kids, a daughter and a son, with his third wife Camille Donatacci and three more with his fourth spouse Kayte Walsh.
But starting a family with his current wife was also difficult for Grammer, as Walsh suffered several miscarriages before giving birth to the couple’s first baby, Faith, in 2012. And even that happy occasion was marked by sadness. You see, Faith had originally been a twin.
Grammer and Walsh spoke about this heartbreak, too, revealing in a statement, “We were ecstatic earlier this year when we announced that Kayte was carrying twins. Tragically, we lost the little boy shortly thereafter. This was not something we cared to make known publicly at the time. It was unspeakably painful, and we know that people will understand our desire to keep the news private then, as we know they will respect our privacy in this matter now.”
All in all, then, the TV star has dealt with more in his life than anyone should ever have to face. He even lost somebody he knew in the 9/11 attacks. David Angell, one of the creators and producers of Frasier, was killed when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center on that day.
And in 2012 Grammer spoke with Oprah Winfrey about the tragedies that he had endured. The in-depth interview on Oprah’s Next Chapter dealt with all the painful aspects of his life – including the family curse to which his grandfather had once alluded. “Of course, I don’t really believe that,” Grammer said, “but there’s something, something that happened.”
Naturally, the death of Karen was still one of the worst things that Grammer had ever been through, and Winfrey asked him if he had ever really got past that loss. “No,” Grammer answered. “But you put it… you put it in the context of your life… I’ve tried since to just cherish this presence in my life which is still my sister, that is still around.”
Grammer added that after Karen’s death, “the first two years were the hardest.” It was during that period that he also fell into substance abuse – although the tragedy was apparently not the sole reason for him reacting in this manner. “My love affair with cocaine, which was my drug of choice, was motivated by a few other things, I think – like not really deserving whatever I’d gotten and things like that,” Grammer went on to tell Winfrey.
Winfrey also asked Grammer, “When the man who murdered your sister was up for parole in 2009, you wrote a letter to the parole board. What did you say?” Grammer sadly repeated that message, saying, “She was so smart and good and decent. She wrote poetry and loved being alive. We could laugh for hours together; she had the greatest smile.”
Grammer went on, through tears, “She’s my best friend and the best person I knew. She had so much to live for. I love my sister Karen. I miss her, I miss her in my bones. I was her big brother; I was supposed to protect her, [and] I could not. I’ve never gotten over it. I was supposed to save her, [and] I could not. It very nearly destroyed me.”
Grammer then told Oprah something surprising, saying, “There is an interesting thing about all this: I might be willing to forgive [the offenders]. Because God forgives us, you know. I mean, because that’s part of what our thing is. But not if you’re gonna lie about it. And these guys, all of them, still say they weren’t really involved. These guys say, ‘It wasn’t really my fault.’”
In fact, Grammer has been balancing his belief in forgiveness with a desire to seek justice for his sister for a while now. Ultimately, then, in 2014 he opposed another parole appeal from Karen’s killer. During the hearing, the actor said to Glenn, “I accept that you actually live with remorse every day of your life, but I live with tragedy every day of mine.”
In the hearing Grammer went on via video message, “I accept your apology. I forgive you. However, I cannot give your release my endorsement. To give that a blessing would be a betrayal of my sister’s life.” In the end, Glenn’s parole was denied and his application put aside for three years.
And in 2015 Vanity Fair spoke to Grammer about the incident. During that conversation, moreover, the actor said that while he had forgiven Glenn, he was nevertheless adamant that the convicted felon should not enjoy any time outside prison. Grammer explained, “I believe the gift of life and freedom [that Glenn] took from my sister precludes him from ever being allowed to enjoy that gift for himself. He took her future from her with no regard for her whatsoever. He assumed he had a right to do so. He assumed she was his property and that the precious gift God gave her was his to take.”
Then, when Grammer appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2017, he talked some more about how he had dealt with the tragedy and the ongoing aftermath. He said of Karen’s death, “I think you always carry it, because what you miss about them is them in your life… As long as I’m alive, I will miss her, and that’s just the way it is.”
The Frasier star went on, “So you carry that. Have I embraced it? Probably not. I’ve learnt to forgive. I have even told the guy [Glenn]… I forgive him, although I don’t advocate for his freedom, I don’t think that is reasonable.” The next time Glenn will have an opportunity to apply for parole will be in 2021.
And, sadly, Grammer would lose another person in his life the following year when his Frasier co-star and on-screen dad John Mahoney died at the age of 77. To honor the late actor, Grammer left a short but very emotive statement on his Twitter page, writing simply of Mahoney, “He was my father. I loved him.”
Then, later on in 2018, Grammer referenced the horrible tragedies in his life to promote an amendment to a victims’ rights law in North Carolina and Georgia. In the advertisement, he claimed that he had learned about his father’s killer’s release via a newspaper report. “It seemed like a cruel joke,” he said.
So much of Grammer’s story has seemed a little like that. Indeed, in his 2012 interview with Winfrey, the host informed him, “I actually have not seen or heard of anybody who’s had more tragedy in their lives.” But luckily, interviews suggest that the Frasier star has at least clawed back some happiness.
For a start, Grammer seemingly believes that he has finally found a soulmate in Walsh. In 2018 he told the Press Association, “I have been married four times. In each of the previous incarnations of marriage that I’ve enjoyed, before I got married I had that moment of, ‘This might be a really bad idea.’ And I just should have listened. With Kayte, that never happened.”
In the same interview, Grammer spoke about the experience of being a father after having grown up without one. He said, “Because I didn’t really have a coach, I didn’t know my dad, being a father has been very important to me, and figuring out what I think the best way to go about it is. By way of having no example, I became my own – some good, some bad.”
And in February 2019 Grammer gave an interview to the AARP that saw him suggest he was open to rebooting his most famous character. “Hopefully we find something we really like and the network likes, and we can explore another few years of life with Frasier,” he said.
Then, when the interviewer asked Grammer what words he lived by, he answered, “Stagger onward rejoicing.” The actor added, “That line came to me at age 15 in my little refuge, my bedroom, after my dad was murdered and my grandfather died. Eleven years later, I found the line in Atlantis, a poem by W. H. Auden. He became my touchstone. I named our youngest child Auden.”
And Grammer is still to this day staggering onward rejoicing – although helped a little, it seems, by his faith. In the AARP interview, he mused, “My sister was attacked and killed, and, five years later, my two half-brothers died in a scuba accident. I just persevered. I cried out to God, and, eventually, I heard from him.”
The TV star concluded, “The basic message [from God] was, ‘I’m not out to get you. I’m here to help.’ That helped me a lot. Ordinary human unhappiness is life in its natural color. You have a responsibility to keep going.” And he added, “Hardships will still occur, but I’m so grateful for where I am today.”