Actor and star of Frasier

Born: June 20, 1940;

Died: February 4, 2018

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JOHN Mahoney, who has died aged 77, was a soldier, an English lecturer and a journal editor, before trying his hand at acting. And he was in his mid-fifties before he became a star as the title character’s down-to-earth father in the hit American sitcom Frasier, which ran from 1993 until 2004.

Mahoney’s character Marty Crane was an ex-cop, with a bullet in his hip, a crazy, wee dog called Eddie and a beat-up old armchair that devastated the carefully-designed ambience of his son’s apartment.

Marty was the polar opposite of his two psychiatrist sons Frasier and Niles. He was unpretentious and happily unsophisticated, preferring baseball to opera, a hotdog and beer to posh restaurants and expensive wines.

He was also immediately likeable, whereas the viewer really needed to spend some time with the boys to appreciate their finer points and the flaws and insecurities behind the sometimes pompous facade. And in real life Mahoney seems to have been as likeable and grounded as his most famous character.

Although in some ways, Mahoney came to represent a certain strain of American manhood, he was born in Blackpool, Lancashire. The seventh of eight children, he grew up in Manchester. His father was a baker from Ireland, who played classical piano.

The family was evacuated from the city during the Second World War to avoid heavy bombing, which is why Mahoney was born in Blackpool. Despite the numeracy of the offspring, it was not a happy family.

Mahoney recalled: “I remember the bruising silences. My dad would come home from work and he wouldn't even say hello to my mother – it just never occurred to him – and he'd take off his coat and go into the parlour, and he'd start playing Schumann… It was almost like two strangers, except when they did get to each other, when they’d have some big, pretty terrible arguments.”

Mahoney found an escape in reading and children’s theatre. He decided that as soon as he could he would leave the family home and leave Manchester. And so he followed an older sister to Illinois. He served in the US Army, taught English at Western Illinois University and worked as editor of a medical journal for much of the 1970s.

But he also maintained his interest in drama, appeared in amateur productions and was encouraged by John Malkovich to join the famous Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.

Bringing half a lifetime of real-life living to the craft, Mahoney could make acting seem effortlessly easy. He made his Broadway debut at the relatively elderly age of 46 and won a Tony award in his first play The House of Blue Leaves, a black comedy in which he played a zookeeper with a schizophrenic wife and dreams of being a songwriter.

In the second half of the 1980s and first half of the 1990s, Mahoney found himself in significant supporting roles in a series of prestigious movies, including Barry Levinson’s Tin Men (1987), Moonstruck (1987), John Sayles’s baseball movie Eight Men Out (1988), The Russia House (1990) and the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink (1991) and The Hudsucker Proxy (1994).

Frasier was a spin-off from the sitcom Cheers (1982-93), with Kelsey Grammer reprising the character of Dr Frasier Crane. Mahoney made one appearance in Cheers in 1992, not as Frasier’s father, but as a different character, a jingle writer called Sy Flembeck.

In the new show Frasier has moved back from Boston to his home town of Seattle, where he achieves a certain celebrity as the resident psychiatrist at a radio station. But his plans for a tasteful and well-ordered life are disrupted by the arrival of his father, his father’s dog and his father’s physical therapist Daphne Moon.

Frasier was a well-crafted comedy of manners, with Frasier and Marty intended as the central characters, though the roles of Niles and Daphne expanded over time. Frasier and Niles earned their living by offering advice, but they struggled to put their own lives in order, while Marty applied common sense and a practical approach to everything life threw at him.

Marty was based on the father of Peter Casey, one of the show’s creators. Casey’s father had spent his working life as a policeman in San Francisco. During the development process the writers imagined someone “like John Mahoney” in the role. Eventually someone suggested that the person most like John Mahoney was John Mahoney.

At times the relationship between Marty and Frasier recalled the relationship of the classic English sitcom duo Steptoe and Son, but with a much lighter touch. Whereas Albert Steptoe was a mean and bitter old man, Marty was a loving father, proud of his sons, tolerant of their airs and graces – up to a point, the sort of guy most people would welcome into their company for an evening down the local bar.

Mahoney appeared throughout the show’s run, 263 episodes in all. The show was a critical and popular success, winning a record 37 Primetime Emmy awards. Mahoney was nominated for Emmy and Golden Globe awards, but oddly never won, losing out on one occasion to David Hyde Pierce, who played Niles.

Mahoney did not attend awards events – he put his success down to luck, and he avoided talk shows and publicity junkets. When not filming Frasier, he continued to live in a town just outside Chicago. “Here I have old friends who aren't in the business… Waiters and waitresses don't want me to read their screenplays."

He never married, but in a rare interview said that he had been in several relationships. “I cherish my privacy,” he said once. Which is pretty much what you imagine Marty might have said.

BRIAN PENDREIGH