Actor John Mahoney has passed away at the age of 77, and is perhaps best-known for his work as Frasier Crane’s father, Martin, on the sitcom Frasier. But Mahoney had many other memorable roles throughout his decades in acting, from several stage roles (including a Tony for The House Of Blue Leaves in 1986) to Walter Barnett in season two of In Treatment to James Court in Say Anything to Poppy in Dan In Real Life to Kid Gleason in Eight Men Out to narrating the NFL’s 75th anniversary film.
But Mahoney appeared in all 264 episodes of Frasier over that show’s 11-season run from 1993-2004, and earned two Emmy nominations along the way. His portrayal of Martin’s blue-collar sensibilities made the character an excellent foil for the extravagant tendencies and snobbery of sons Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce), and the caring heart under Martin’s crusty exterior helped display the show’s own central heart.
That’s before you get to great touches like his old recliner (crucial to that overall heart), his dog Eddie and his love of Ballantine beer. There are countless terrific clips and compilations of Martin Crane over the years, but here are 12 of the character’s best moments:
12: The minute and a half of back-and-forth crying: On most shows, 90 seconds of characters crying back and forth at each other would sound terrible. On this one, in season four’s “Our Father, Whose Art Ain’t Heaven,” it’s a recipe for hilarity, spawned from Frasier rejecting Martin’s painting and everyone breaking down:
11. “We’re royalty!” Martin’s deadpan commentary is often great, especially when he puts one over on Frasier and Niles. A key example comes from season seven’s “A Tsar Is Born,” which even involves a great Antiques Roadshow appearance. But before that, Martin fools the sons for a few seconds with this excellent “We’re royalty” speech:
10. “She’ll come to the source! To me! The fountainhead!” This clip from season 10’s “Lilith Needs A Favor” of Frasier talking with Martin about ex-wife Lilith Sternin (Bebe Neuwirth) wanting him to be a sperm donor so she can have another baby is remarkable for how it illustrates one of the show’s recurring themes, two people seemingly having a conversation while talking about quite separate things.
Frasier is all caught up in the implications for him, while Martin immediately centers in on her wanting Crane DNA, on Niles being likely to also turn her down, and on that meaning he’d be asked next. And that leads to a fun Mahoney monologue:
“Can you imagine? Lilith’s and my kid would be brother to you and Niles AND Freddie. And if you and Lilith got back together, you’d be his step-father and his brother and Niles would be your son and his own uncle. It’s almost worth doing just so that I can tell the story.”
This is also particularly funny given Martin’s horror of Lilith, previously shown many times. Here’s an example of that:
And yes, as someone on Reddit notes, the relationships Martin mentions are all technically possible.
9. “Dad’s wanted to have you for a long time”: One of the interesting Martin elements is the different romantic relationships the show put him into over the years, and how awkward his sons got around that idea. An early classic comes from season one’s “Guess Who’s Coming To Breakfast?”, where Martin’s date with a woman from their building ends with her staying the night and Frasier being incredibly awkward in the morning, filling the conversation with double and single entendres.
This sequence is an excellent showcase of how much Mahoney could do with expressions and a few words. Most of it is Frasier babbling, but the sheer stunned horror on Martin’s face when Frasier says “Dad’s wanted to have you for a long time” is amazing.
That episode has plenty of other great moments, from Frasier describing this on the radio to Martin getting mad about it (“Sex is something between you, and the person you’re doing it to!”), but that double entendre scene is terrific for just the expressions.
8. Martin’s impression of Daphne: The pairing of Martin with physical therapist Daphne Moon (Jane Leeves) often brought out some laughs, with maybe one of the best being his impersonation of her accent and topics of conversation from season three’s “Look Before You Leap”:
“I’m so sick of me hair. Do you think I should get it cut like Princess Di? Ooh, do you think that’d make me cheeks look too fat? That reminds me of the craziest thing me Grammy Moon used to say!”
Another funny thing there is that Mahoney was born and raised in Lancashire, and that his “Manchester accent” was probably better than Leeves’ (she’s from Essex, after all).
7. “Use the can like the rest of the world!” The Frasier pilot, “The Good Son,” is remarkable for how it’s able to establish so many themes that would carry on through the rest of the show. Of course, it helps that Frasier himself was already established as a character from Cheers, but the very first Frasier episode shows how the new show will differ, with Frasier’s interactions with Niles and Martin as strong elements.
There’s an excellent exchange after Daphne (interviewing to be Martin’s physical therapist) leaves after learning that the position isn’t planned to be live-in, and Martin advocates for hiring her anyway. Sadly, it doesn’t appear to be online, but here’s the transcript from fan site KACL780:
Frasier: Dad, I’m not having another person living in this house!
Martin: Give me one good reason why not!
Frasier: Well, for one thing, there’s no room for her!
Martin: What about that room right across the hall from mine?
Frasier: My study? You expect me to give up my study – the place
where I read, where I do my most profound thinking?
Martin: Ah, use the can like the rest of the world! You’ll adjust!
Frasier: [angry] I don’t want to adjust! I’ve done enough adjusting!
I’m in a new city, I’ve got a new job, I’m separated from my
little boy, which in itself is enough to drive me nuts. And
now my father and his dog are living with me! Well, that’s
enough on my plate, thank you. The whole idea of getting
somebody in here was to help ease my burden, not to add to it!
Martin: Oh, do you hear that, Eddie? We’re a burden.
Frasier: Oh Dad, Dad, you’re, you’re twisting my words! I meant burden
in its most positive sense!
Martin: As in, “Gee, what a lovely burden?”
Frasier: Something like that, yes!
Martin: Well, you’re not the only one who got screwed here, you know.
Two years ago I’m sailing toward retirement and some punk
robbing a convenience store puts a bullet in my hip. Next
thing you know, I’m trading in my golf clubs for one of these.
[shakes his cane] Well, I had plans too, you know! And this
may come as a shock to you, sonny boy, but one of them wasn’t
living with you.
That argument’s impressive on a few different levels, as it manages to get in Martin-Frasier differences over pretension, the challenges of their relationship, and the serious issues of how they have to figure out how to coexist, while still providing an incredible laugh line in “use the can like the rest of the world!”
6. The police horse: This next one isn’t really a funny moment for Martin, but a sentimental one. In season five’s “The Gift Horse,” Niles and Frasier are going over the top trying to get Martin the best present imaginable, including Frasier even buying a giant television despite how much he’ll personally hate it.
Niles one-ups him by buying Martin’s old police horse, Agides. That creates a very funny episode, but also a touching speech from Martin. Sadly, the clip isn’t online, but here’s the transcript:
Martin: When I saw Agides today, it was kinda of a shock to see how old he’s gotten and I just… It made me realise how old
Frasier: Dad, you still have a lot of…
Martin: Now, come on…
Frasier: Sorry, sorry.
Martin: Look, it’s not a problem you can solve, Frasier. It’s just a fact of life. People get old.
Niles: Well, I guess this horse wasn’t quite the banner gift I
thought it would be.
Martin: Oh, yes, it was, Niles. I’m feeling a little bit sorry for myself right now, but I’ll get over that. But I love this horse, it’s the greatest present I’ve ever gotten.
That’s a sweet moment, one that shows the depth Mahoney brought to the character.
5. The hair dye: Season five’s “The Life Of The Party” sees Martin try to dye his hair, and it does not go well at all, leaving stains on Niles’ wing chair. And that leads to an incredible confrontation at the hospital (they’re there for Roz [Peri Gilpin] giving birth). Here’s the transcript:
Daphne: Yes, I came down as soon as I heard. [She notices Martin.] What the hell happened to your hair?
Martin: Well, what do you think? I colored it, just like you
told me to.
Daphne: Yeah, but this isn’t cinnamon sable.
Martin: Well, I couldn’t use that, it had a woman’s picture on the box. So I used some stuff called “Color In A Can” instead. It said “As seen on TV – Just spray on and
go.” How did I know it was a lousy product?
Frasier: If only there had been some clue!
Martin: Don’t you start on me, mister, you left me melting by that fire.
Niles: Wait a minute! You’re the one who left stains on my wing chair!
Frasier: I was wondering when you’d crack that, Miss Marple!
That’s classic Crane banter, and a great comedic situation set up by Martin’s pecularities.
4. Martin’s reaction to Niles’ halfcourt shot: One of the best sports-related episodes is season eight’s “Hooping Cranes,” which involves Niles improbably making a halfcourt shot at a Seattle SuperSonics game. But what’s clever is how it fades to black after that, then resumes at the apartment, showing how excited Martin is about this:
Martin dancing around and calling Niles’ hanging up his coat is great. But the clincher comes right at the end of this clip: “I know I always told you boys that sports weren’t important. But they are!”
3. The police “Fine Arts Forgery Department”: Martin was never above having some fun at Frasier’s expense, and this scene from 1993’s “The Crucible” is a great example of that.
The episode revolves around Frasier buying an expensive painting, having a party to show it off and convincing the artist to attend, then being humiliated when she declares it’s a fake. Frasier then unsuccessfully tries to return the painting to the gallery, then returns home and calls the police. He asks Martin who to ask for, and Mahoney deadpans perfectly “Have them put you through to the Fine Arts Forgery Department,” then continues eating nonchalantly, only letting out a smirk after Frasier actually does it.
This is strong, thanks to not just the way Mahoney plays it, but also thanks to what it tells us about the Martin-Frasier relationship. Frasier’s often complaining about Martin, but Martin can give as good as he gets sometimes, and he clearly has more street smarts than his sons.
Over the course of the series, Martin successfully deflated Frasier’s ego plenty of times. And it’s impressive that they already had that part figured out just six episodes in.
2. The Ski Lodge. This Emmy-winning episode from season five is one of the show’s best-received and most-loved, even inspiring an entire oral history, and Martin’s inability to hear thanks to his ears not popping is critical to setting up all the farcical misunderstandings about who’s trying to sleep with who.
Mahoney plays this brilliantly throughout, using Martin’s confidence to not worry that he’s misunderstanding something, and then delivering this incredible non-plussed appearance and “Oh, my ears must have popped! I can hear again! Well, good night all.” when he finds everyone else in states of undress and yelling at each other in a bedroom:
That reaction is just incredible, and the laugh it gets from the audience is well-deserved.
1. The chair off the balcony: As previously mentioned, there’s an argument that the heart of Frasier is Martin’s beat-up chair and what that symbolizes about him, his son and their uneasy cohabitation. So that, of course, had to top this list.
The ultimate chair episode may be season nine’s “Bla-Z Boy,” where Frasier accidentally sets Martin’s chair on fire and knocks it off the balcony, barely missing Martin in the process. But before that, there’s a great confrontation over Martin trying to fix his chair’s squeak and damaging the carpet:
Frasier: What the hell’s happened?
Martin: Now, don’t get upset. I was oiling my chair, trying to get rid of the squeak, and I had a little spill.
Frasier: A little spill? I just had this carpet cleaned!
Martin: Well, I’m sorry, it was an accident.
Frasier: Sure, Dad! “It was an accident.”
Niles: [applying paper towels] It was an accident, I saw him step on it.
Frasier: Niles, you know as well as I do there are no accidents! Just admit it, Dad: Your latent hostility toward me has been building through the years, little by little, until you’ve finally struck the Achilles’ heel of my decor, the Berber carpet!
Martin: I did not do this on purpose!
Frasier: No? I suggest you dig deep into the twisted caves of your subconscious, where malicious acts abide, clothed in the robes of plausible excuses!
Martin: For the last time, this was not malicious, it was an accident!
Frasier: I don’t think you know the difference!
Martin: Yes, I do! That was an accident! [squirts oil all over Frasier’s shirt and face] THIS is malicious!
That’s fantastic, and one of the best Frasier-Martin arguments. And it pays further dividends in the reprise after the falling chair:
Frasier: Dad, I can explain!
Martin: You threw my chair off the balcony?!
Frasier: I’m so sorry! Just hear me out…
Martin: Are you crazy?
Frasier: Well, I didn’t mean to!
Martin: Forget what it means to me, you could have killed someone!
Frasier: It was an accident!
Martin: You said there are no accidents!
Frasier: But clearly I was wrong! I mean, why on earth would I do such a thing?
Martin: [seething] Because you’ve always been gunning for that chair! I accidentally stain your carpet, and you set fire to the one thing in this apartment I care about and HEAVE it out into the street!
This episode’s great because it has the hilarity of the first argument, the hilarity crossed with serious emotions of the second one, and the eventual makeup, where Martin buys Frasier a nice new chair, and Frasier remakes the old one at tremendous expense. It shows off both the heart and the humor of Frasier, and how Mahoney brought so much of both to the show.