After years of grappling with his demons Kelsey Grammer says he's finally putting his past behind him. Can Frasier's gifted alter ego TV's most popular funnyman live happily ever after?
Report by Jay Martel
Photographs by Mary Ellen Mark
Photo Editor Jennifer Crandall
When the calls come, they come often. "Kelsey's just heartbroken over this," the publicist says. "Isn't there anything you can do to stop it? " "It" is this article, and the problem is that it contains quotes from an ex-girlfriend of Grammer's. I have called to get his reaction. His reaction, I am told, is profound pain. Here is a man whose life has been shadowed by tragedy and trouble, and what am I doing? Adding to it. This isn't what I signed on for.
The publicist howls with indignation, and the t word (for tabloid journalist) comes out, a sign that we've left the boundaries of civilized discourse. My first impulse is to help, to make things right, because I like Grammer and know that his heart is good. But soon after, I realize that I am trying to change what is written about him not because I want to do my job better or be more truthful but because I want to protect him, to make the pain stop. After spending only one day with Kelsey Grammer, I have officially made the grade as enabler.
I'm not the first, of course. Last September, shortly before Grammer crashed his car and entered rehab, the entire cast and crew of Frasier was aware that there was a problem with their star, but no one really knew how to deal with it. "I think we all noticed something was up, with his arriving later and later, and then the strange moods at rehearsal," says David Hyde Pierce, who plays Frasier's brother, Niles. "When we noticed his work was affected, it scared us all because we had never seen him allow that. Whatever was happening in Kelsey's life, it never came onto the set."
Still, the show's producers weren't sure whether Grammer was in dire straits or just going through another difficult patch. "What constitutes something as wrong?" says Christopher Lloyd, one of Frasier's executive producers. "People have their lifestyles, and Kelsey has had his sort of edgy lifestyle since the beginning of the series." This is why Grammer could crawl into the bed on the set of Frasier's bedroom and fall asleep during a rehearsal break, as he did one day in September, and not draw undue notice. But a couple of weeks later he did something that no one could ignore. Early one Saturday evening, he flipped his Dodge Viper on an empty road a couple of miles from his house in the San Fernando Valley.
The reason it's so difficult to know when Grammer is in serious trouble is that he has always lived in such an outsize way. Since becoming famous, he has seemed hellbent on being the first celebrity to completely fill the Hollywood Scandal bingo card. He has grappled with cocaine and alcohol addictions, been twice divorced, weathered allegations that he had sex with a minor, fathered a child out of wedlock and been battered by a spouse. He has married a stripper and been engaged to a Playboy model. And now, following the car crash, he has been through the Betty Ford Center, the famous rehab facility. "When I told my friends I was going to Betty Ford, I felt like I'd finally made it," Grammer has joked.
It's no small irony, of course, that Grammer, who is 42, has achieved fame and fortune by playing a psychiatrist. Just as viewers identify with Frasier, the doctor of self-knowledge who doesn't have a clue about himself, they empathize with Grammer, the star who seems to have everything but peace of mind. "The beauty of Frasier-and what I do share with Frasier -is that we're both still trying to do our best," says Grammer. "He wants to save the world. I want to save the world. We're both highly underqualified for that. And I finally figured it out. Frasier can't figure it out, or he won't be funny."
Grammer has also finally figured out that he's an alcoholic. (Frasier can't figure it out, or he won't be able to drink martinis with Niles.) Since checking out of Betty Ford at the end of October, Grammer has been attending AA meetings regularly. "I'm working on my Fourth Step now," he says, "and it's a bitch."
With a young and beautiful fiancée, a new vow of sobriety and, needless to say, a new car (a Bentley), Grammer has embarked on, well, a new life. Most who know him say the change has been remarkable. "I can see it in his eyes," says Hyde Pierce. "He's made the commitment. He's over the hump. He's really confronting it one to one."
But there are those who feel the excitement is far from over. One of them is, yes, his ex-girlfriend Tammi Baliszewski. "Of course all those people are saying that he's better. They're practically paid to say that," says Baliszewski, whose skepticism is not surprising. She and Grammer were engaged for two years, until last year, when they parted acrimoniously. While they haven't spoken in months, she predicts that Grammer's cycles of controversy and contrition are far from over. " I don't think he's necessarily into getting better," she says, sounding sadly resigned. "I think he just wants to seem like he's taking the high road."
Grammer himself sounds like a man who is determined to change.
"I've been in and out of AA for nine years," he says. "But I never really decided that I wanted to quit until this last go-round."
All he has to do for the moment is get by that damn Fourth Step. It reads: "We have made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."
"I've made some mistakes, certainly," Grammer says, sitting at a desk in a large, nondescript office near the Frasier studio. In person, the outstanding features of Grammer as Frasier-the bigger-than-God forehead tapering down to permanently furrowed eyebrows, the deep mellifluous voice - recede into a larger, more subdued, bearlike man in glasses. He lights one of a succession of filtered Camels, which, along with coffee and 8-ounce bottles of Coca-Cola, number among his few remaining vices. "Now," says Grammer, "I've really been given a chance to finally become the man I always wanted to be, and I'm happy for that. Because I am a good man."
Grammer was introduced to his fiancée, Camille Donatacci, by his ex-agent. “The best job he ever did for me,” Grammer says.
There is an eerie echo here of Sideshow Bob, the genius psychopath for whom Grammer provides the voice on The Simpsons. "I'm a good, good man," Sideshow Bob assured his prison chaplain during a recent episode. (In what is perhaps a positive omen for Grammer, the ensuing 20 minutes of that show proved that Bob actually had changed for the better.)
"When I was in Betty Ford, I read this thing: 'If God seems far away, who moved?'" says the voice of Sideshow Bob, cigarette smoke swirling around his head. "When I read that one, I just broke down crying. Oh, my God, that's what happened. That's always been there."
He has always talked a lot about God, but since Grammer's spiritual awakening in AA, God has been promoted from a recurring to a regular role. In fact, Grammer speaks of the car accident as a sort of divine intervention. "As a result of my accident," he says, "I finally decided that I wanted to get involved with life again, get involved with love again. It got me back to life, which was what I was begging for. So, basically my prayers were answered."
It begins to sound like Grammer is talking about winning the lottery instead of totaling a $70,000 car and barely escaping death. But such unflagging optimism has always pervaded his thinking, helping him to survive myriad setbacks, but also preventing him from clearly seeing the depth of his troubles.
In 1990, he spent time in jail and then called it "the best, most restful 11 days I've had in years." So, it should come as no surprise that today Grammer says, "I love being an alcoholic. I'm really so comfortable accepting that title. " In fact, the words most prevalent in our interview are happy and happier.
"Hell," he says at one point, "I was even happy when I was completely miserable. There's always that juxtaposition, that strange sort of dichotomy about my life. I mean, I still found joy being alive even when I was at my most desperate. I have a great way of turning tragedy into triumph."
"God knows, Kelsey's story is sad," says his longtime friend Richard Davidson, who met Grammer when the two were acting at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis in 1980. "The first time he told the story to me I was gone. Who else has had that happen to them? Kelsey would tell the story to women and it would just bring out the mother in them. I said, 'You have no trouble getting women, but I'd like to see you go after a woman sometime without telling her that story.'"
Grammer has never shied from telling his story - and who can blame him? It would be like telling job to quit complaining. When Grammer was 18 months old, his parents separated and his mother, Sally, was flat broke and had nowhere to go but back home. Grammer and his younger sister, Karen, were brought up by Sally and her parents in a middle-class household in Colonia, N.J. Though the grandparents adored their grandchildren, Grammer says, there was constant tension between his mother and his grandmother. "I think I learned to be funny by trying to make my mom laugh when I was little," he says. "I was a card. I had to be a card."
"He wasn't really a class clown," says Sally Grammer, "but he was always in front of the camera when my father was taking pictures."
When Grammer was 11, his grandfather Gordon, the man who had become his surrogate father, died suddenly of cancer six days after the family moved to Pompano Beach, Fla. Two years later, Grammer's real father, Allen Grammer, was shot and killed by an intruder outside his home in the Virgin Islands.
"Gordon was pretty much my main influence, and then he was gone just like that," Grammer says, snapping his fingers. "After that, I felt like I was kind of on my own."
When asked about this period of her son's life, Sally Grammer responds quickly: "I knew it was a hard time for him. We were all having problems."
Grammer and his mother continued to have problems until recently. According to a friend of his, when Sally Grammer relocated from Florida to California to be closer to her son in 1987, he at first refused to see her. But both Grammer and his mother say that things are much better now. She attends each Tuesday-night taping of Frasier, taking her regular seat next to the warm-up man. "I adore my mother," says Grammer. "We've grown up together."
As an adolescent who was "expected to be the man of the house," Grammer says, he dealt with the pressure through intensive surfing and meditation. "I was a spiritual dynamo," he says. "I was just floating around for a while. Then, of course, with my sister's death, I came down to earth real fast."
In 1975, after Grammer had moved to New York to study acting, his 18-year-old sister, Karen, was abducted outside the restaurant where she was working in Colorado Springs, Colo., by three men who raped her and stabbed her to death. Grammer flew to Colorado to identify the body. The year after Karen's death, he says, "was the worst of my life." His only salvation was work.
Grammer had discovered acting in high school. After graduation, he traveled to New York to audition for the prestigious Juilliard School. A surfer dude with a ponytail of sun-bleached hair that reached down to the middle of his back, he performed one of Willy Loman's depressing speeches from Death of a Salesman and was accepted. He joined the same class as Christopher Reeve, Robin Williams and Mandy Patinkin, only to be asked to leave before two years were up. "My acting teacher and I didn't get along very well," Grammer writes in So Far..., his recent autobiography. "My interest waned. I started skipping classes."
Virtually penniless in New York, Grammer still felt confident in his career choice. When the money ran out, he would sometimes sleep in Central Park. "When he was a starving actor, he never thought like a starving actor," says Davidson. "He never even had a picture! His agent would phone: 'Richard, has he got a head shot yet?' He never did!"
"I had complete trust that I was going to make it," Grammer says. "Not an arrogance, just a faith. I knew I was on the right path."
To watch Grammer work during rehearsals of Frasier is to understand his certitude. Here is an arena where living on the edge works for him. On the set, he is constantly in motion, popping food from the craft-services table into his mouth, toddling around quickly on his flat feet, playfully spurring on the cast and crew with a steady stream of tongue-in-cheek commentary. (One favorite expression is "We're burning daylight, people.") The cast of Frasier works faster and rehearses substantially less than do the casts of most other sitcoms. ("It's not brain surgery" is another favorite.)
"I require what I call 'requisite disrespect' for the craft," Grammer says. "You have to care about it so much that you finally get to a place where you don't care at all." To this end, he never memorizes his lines.
"It's insanity, but it works for him," says Hyde Pierce. "We have a last final run-through in the makeup room from 6:30 to 7 before we do a 7 o'clock show, and he's not even close on a lot of the lines." Cast members look forward to seeing the faces of guest stars who have scenes with Kelsey as they listen to him struggle through the script. "Their jaws drop and their lives flash before their eyes," says Hyde Pierce, smiling. "I think," adds Lloyd, "he only knows the lines 10 seconds before the director calls, 'Action.'"
"If you know what your lines are and you've over-rehearsed, you're not thinking anymore; you're an automaton," Grammer says. "So, I do myself a favor. I raise the stakes by making it real borderline that I know what I'm going to say. So, there's a slightly wildeyed kind of energy when we tape."
Given the unusual speed at which everyone works, and the pressure involved, the easygoing atmosphere on the set is remarkable. "It's an example Kelsey sets," says Hyde Pierce. "The lines of communication are always open. There are no hidden agendas."
Grammer has a knack - some would call it a genius - for rapidly reframing a line or a piece of physical business to find a new laugh, often by heightening the contrast between what Frasier says and what he does, such as his lambasting a new boss one moment and ogling her the next.
Grammer doesn't take his gift lightly. "I really think of it as a calling," he says. "I mean, I don't want to get too wacky on you, but it's almost a ministry, you know, to encourage, to give hope, to ease somebody else's burden."
The Frasier ministry was originally ordained with less noble intentions: to separate a barmaid from a bartender. For the third season of Cheers, the writers felt they needed a way to break up the Sam and Diane characters and bring some jealousy back into the show. "We first saw Kelsey on a tryout tape from New York," says James Burrows, one of Cheers' creators. "As soon as his face came on the screen, everyone started laughing."
As with many actors, Grammer found himself unprepared for success. "The combination of divorce and alimony payments, and the mixed blessings of celebrity, sometimes overwhelmed me," he writes in his book. "I found an escape in cocaine.'
We've heard the story many times: Someone is able to avoid his problems by concentrating on his career - only until the career takes off. "There's an occupational hazard, especially if you started out in theater," says Hyde Pierce. "You don't associate [acting] with being paid large amounts of money. When that happens, the things that focused you - having to pay rent, having to find the next job - that's all taken away. It's like the thing that child actors go through when they're thrust into fame and fortune and they're not remotely prepared for it."
In July 1987, Grammer was arrested for being "under the influence of an alcoholic beverage and a drug." The following year he was arrested for possession of about $25 worth of cocaine. Then, in 1990, after failing to show up for arraignments and court hearings to prove that he had completed rehab, he was sentenced to 30 days in jail. "Kelsey's incredibly bright," says Cheers co-star Ted Danson. "Mixed with a substance-abuse problem that's a pretty dangerous cocktail."
Around this time, the cast and some Cheers producers participated in an intervention to force Grammer to seek help. "I remember the intervention only worked so-so," says Danson. "But going to jail worked great."
When Grammer checked out of the Betty Ford Center at the end of last October, he flew straight to New York to be reunited with his girlfriend of four months, Camille Donatacci. Soon after, the couple announced their engagement, catching some of Grammer's friends off guard - especially since the center recommends that participants abstain from dating for a year after the program. "I said to him, 'I thought you were going to be on your own, wing it for a bit,"' says Grammer's friend Davidson. "And he simply said, 'I couldn't do it alone at this point."
Grammer and Donatacci met last June in a Manhattan restaurant, at a dinner set up by Grammer's former agent. Donatacci, who has been a dancer on Club MTV and a Playboy model, was immediately drawn to the actor. "He has a smooth way; he's so charming," she says. "You have a presence, Mr. Grammer, " she adds, winking at him.
When the two are together in a room, they seem incapable of not touching. At the moment, they're playfully hugging and kissing each other in Grammer's kitchen, one of the more lived-in rooms in the large, Spanish-style home he has owned for six years. The living room, with many of its paintings - including a large, somewhat spooky oil of Grammer playing Richard II - resting against the walls, appears to belong to someone who moved in recently.
"I guess I was most impressed that there was no star trip there whatsoever," Donatacci says about Grammer. "Just a little bit of a belly." She pats his stomach playfully, and he responds with another squeeze.
"Camille has her own fan club," Grammer says proudly. "I've gotten e-mail from fans that say, 'Kelsey, you're the luckiest man in the world.' I am." He nuzzles Donatacci's neck. "I love you, honey."
"He's always like this," Donatacci says. "From the first thing in the morning, it's 'Oh, honey, honey...'"
"I'm the large manatee," Grammer says in a voice even deeper than usual.
"He calls himself the manatee," Donatacci says.
"The beautiful blond girl on the shore saw the beauty within, though he was a damaged, scarred creature," intones Grammer. "Lucky, lucky manatee."
The affection between Grammer and Donatacci is so abundant and sincere that it's difficult to reconcile with Grammer's romantic history. "I have some issues with women," Grammer has said, to no argument.
"Kelsey clearly doesn't understand women," says actress Bebe Neuwirth, who has played Lilith opposite Frasier for seven seasons. "He loves them, adores them. But he doesn't get them."
Grammer attributes his problem with relationships to the women who, he says, dominated his childhood. In his book, he writes bitterly about his struggles growing up in a house with three women: "It seemed that my grandmother and mother, and even my sister at times, were members of a bizarre conspiracy, its sole purpose to ensure that I fulfill their needs.... But Kelsey never did any of it well enough. I felt like I was trapped in a game I could never win."
At another time, he elaborated: "I ended up choosing partners in adulthood that played me the same way that my grandmother and my mother and my sister did. They required me, but they didn't revere me."
Grammer has been married to two women, both decidedly nonreverers. The first, Doreen Alderman, changed the locks on the door after their daughter, Spencer, who is now 13, was born. The second, Leigh-Anne Csuhany, would, wrote Grammer in his book, "spit in my face. Slap me. Punch me. Kick me... Threaten to kill me, kill herself."
The acrimony has extended beyond his marriages. According to Grammer he is currently being sued by his ex-girlfriend Cerlette Lamme for character defamation, based on, among other things, the claim in his book that she lost his dog. He has also been in civil litigation over allegations that he had sex with a 15-year-old baby sitter in 1993 (authorities in New Jersey and Arizona dropped criminal charges in 1995). Grammer regrets that he no longer sees much of his second daughter, Greer, now 5 years old, who was conceived with a friend while he was living with Lamme. "It's just a difficult situation," he says about his relationship with Greer's mother, "and I'd rather not have Greer suffer that anymore."
But perhaps the most emotionally painful situation of recent years involved his halfbrother, John Grammer, who two years ago sold the story of the underage-sex allegations to the tabloids. "I don't have a lot of family," Kelsey says. "I think that was a lot of what motivated me to reach out to John. You want to have some sense of past, some sense of grounding, some sense of family; that's all I wanted. Now... he's way gone."
Given his heartfelt yearning for the happy family that he never had, it's understandable that Grammer was chosen to host the airing of Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life last December on NBC. With his baritone set at kindly and his eyes moist to brimming, Grammer sat amid a homey living-room set - complete with presents under a tree. He presented the film, the quintessential myth of the American family, from "our family at NBC to your family at home." Today, when Grammer talks about making a family with Donatacci, he sounds not unlike George Bailey. "When we first met," Grammer says, "I knew that I wanted to be with her. But I wasn't sure. I was afraid of being hurt any more." Yet they soon became engaged. "She has turned out to be a marvelous partner," he says. "I share a warmth with her that I never really had before.”
About four years ago, when Grammer was coming out of his abusive second marriage, he met Tammi Baliszewski in a restaurant. "I really cared for her," he said back then. "But I ran away. I wasn't prepared for this relationship." Yet they soon became engaged. "I believe in her word, and that's something I never had with a woman before," Grammer said.
But Baliszewski describes her relationship with Grammer as the flip side of It's a Wonderful Life: a classic Hollywood nightmare, complete with serial infidelity, drug and alcohol abuse, and a sad ending that illustrates how difficult it is to break up with a star when you aren't one yourself. "I lost my therapist and my priest," Baliszewski says. "Can you believe it? Even my priest ended up dissing me for Kelsey."
In Baliszewski's version of the events, she was the only one who kept Grammer from selfdestructing for nearly three years. "I was pouring alcohol out of the bottles," she says, "and meanwhile he's got all these friends around saying, 'Hey, Kels, have another drink.' Then Kelsey would come to me and say, 'Why don't you love me like these people do?"
After they had been together a year and a half, Baliszewski says, Grammer's drug and alcohol use grew to the point where she could no longer ignore it. She says that after she confronted Grammer, he agreed to give up drugs but told her that "if you ever give me an ultimatum between you and alcohol, you'll lose."
"I once said to him, 'You're such a contradiction. There's no one better, more positive than you. There's no one meaner and scarier than you,"' Baliszewski says. "He got angry with me and said, 'We're all contradictions. If you can't embrace all of me, then we shouldn't be together."
Grammer and Baliszewski split up in June, but she says she was still having occasional dinners with him, trying to work things out. "When he flipped the Viper, he was on the way to my house," she says, explaining that she had asked Grammer to bring over a picnic basket she left at his place, and that he crashed because he heard the basket rattling in the passenger's seat, reached down to adjust it and lost control of the car.
About a month later, Baliszewski was stunned to hear Grammer on Entertainment Tonight, "talking about how Camille was the love of his life." They haven't spoken since.
"Kelsey has no boundaries," she says with some bitterness. "He was never told what was right and wrong. And now he has all the fame, the money and the power. So, he's like a child let loose on the world."
When I ask Grammer about his relationship with Baliszewski, he says, "I don't want to talk too much about Tammi. I'd rather stick with the Camille end of it." He mentions more than once, in fact, that he would like to rewrite the last couple of chapters of his autobiography, presumably to replace Tammi with Camille in the sad story's happy ending.
Last November, after his reunion with Donatacci, Grammer hit the usual rehab media circuit - a sort of victory lap for the '90s making contrite and sober pronouncements. He did Entertainment Tonight and followed that with The Tonight Show, where his understated comment that he'd been clean for 40 days elicited the sort of exuberant applause and whoops that you might expect from a Jay Leno line about President Clinton's weight. On the show, Leno explained why he won't do Kelsey Grammer jokes: "There are a lot of people in this town, when they get in the situation that you're in, people love to give it to them, because they're basically not nice people." Grammer on the other hand, said Leno, "treats everyone well, including crew members."
The next stop Grammer made isn't usually on the rehab circuit: the Friars Club. He had been scheduled to be roasted there a month earlier, two days after he checked into rehab. "I think if he had gone to the Friars Club that night," says Hyde Pierce, "it would have killed him, because his self-esteem must have been so low." But since he had been inside Betty Ford for a month (not "more times than Gerald," as one comic quipped) and was feeling better, it was no holds barred.
On Nov. 15, a crowd of 1,000 packed into the New York Hilton. While most of the jokes that evening concerned the scandal involving the 15-year-old, there were also jokes about Grammer's car accident, his drinking, his habit of wearing shorts without underwear to rehearsals and his flatulence on the set. ("Frankly," Grammer says, "I'm not as prolific a contributor as they made me out to be.")
In the end, Grammer took the podium and defended himself from the onslaught of pedophile humor with an impersonation of Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: "That girl was 15 going on 35. Know what I mean?"
"I got up and said thanks and joked back a little bit about some things that were primarily painful and, uh, you know, hurtful but worthy of comedic fun, I guess," Grammer says now. "It was a great test of my resolve."
Back on the set of Frasier, the writers looked at the scripts they had ready for shooting and were concerned to find Frasier saying things like, "Let's skip dinner and have twice as many martinis."
"We thought, oh, my God, are we going to get in trouble?" says Lloyd. "After about five minutes we decided, well, he's always been able to laugh at anything and would probably resent it if we started changing the show to reflect something that happened in his personal life. So, we left it all in, and he never said a word about it."
"There's always a chance he'll fall off the wagon," says Hyde Pierce. "But I know if he does, he'll get back on."
"I know now," says Grammer, "that drinking, for me, is something that will kill me."
At a recent taping, Grammer, in the role of Frasier, committed a verbal slip that Freud himself would have relished. Worried about his father's live-in physical therapist, he said, "Daphne's fighting an uphill bottle." After an awkward pause, the set and the audience convulsed with embarrassed yet cathartic laughter, the kind of laughter you might get from your family at the dinner table if you had made a similar slip. Just a lot more.
Grammer has always worn his heart on his sleeve in public. He proposed to Baliszewski on the set of Frasier, discussed their problems on Oprah and, in effect, broke up on Entertainment Tonight. He has made revelations on national talk shows that you and I might feel embarrassed making to a friend. But for a man who has lived as much of his life in public as Grammer has, he is remarkably sensitive about what others think of him. After spending time with him, you begin to understand that his sensitivity is part of the reason why he leads such a public life -he has a need to come clean in public and, in return, receive the public's affection. This dynamic is frequently referred to by Grammer and others who know him well as the reason for the actor's ability to remain relatively unscathed by scandals that might threaten another actor's career. "I've always been completely honest with people," he says. "I've never made any bones about the fact that I'm less than perfect."
But that doesn't mean it's easy to see your imperfections in print. The topic that comes up most often in my conversations with Grammer is how the tabloids distort his life. He is both funny and obsessive on the subject. "What I really love is when they quote me," he says. "As if I would ever speak to them!" When we're sitting in his kitchen with Donatacci, Grammer describes how they frequently spend weekends reading poetry in his bedroom. He turns to me and says, "I'd like to see the tabloids print that! Ha!"
Grammer's hypersensitivity to others is, of course, one of the main reasons that he's famous -it's inherent in his ability to instantly size up an audience and work it to his advantage. "The audience is the last integer in the equation and the most important part of it," he says when we talk about the making of Frasier. "They make it happen. It's not art until somebody looks at it. It doesn't mean anything until somebody looks at it. I've learned to trust them; it becomes a symbiotic relationship. I always discover something that's a bit fuller, a bit richer by virtue of the fact that they're in the room."
During the taping of an episode of Frasier, there is an effortless grace about everything Grammer does. He is a man who seems more at home on a living-room set than in a real living room. As the taping progresses, Grammer plays with nuance and pitch in his delivery, to reach the same frequency as the studio audience, to make those not already laughing laugh. It works. By the end of most Frasier tapings, Grammer will take his bow to an audience made up almost entirely of converts.
But this acute sensitivity to an audience, so essential to success onstage, has its drawbacks outside the performance arena. It causes you to divide the world into laughers and nonlaughers, spectators who are already on your side and those who have yet to be won over. Someone is either a friend or a foe - there's little in between. "I'm sure there are people out there who think I'm the worst human being who ever lived," Grammer says at one point, out of the blue. "But I love them anyway." He says this last part in a way that makes my blood run cold. "Love?" I say. "What kind of love?" "Real Christian love," he rasps. "The kind of love that stands there spitting in your face. The kind of love that says, 'I'm going to love you anyway, you son of a bitch!"
I hope that Grammer still loves me, though I've been notified by his publicists that I have made the precipitous drop from confidant to Judas, from cure to cancer. "He feels like he opened his home, his life, to you and you broke his heart," comes one message. There is yet a new reason for Grammer to feel hurt and betrayed by the world, and also - and here's the good part - a new reason for him to get up tomorrow morning and keep going. Because to get to this point, he has had to become a fighter, and fighters need a reason to keep fighting. Grammer's reason happens to be your approval. Don't take this responsibility lightly.
Jay Martel, a freelance writer and playwright, has covered television for 'Rolling Stone.'