Frasier Star Kelsey Grammer Has Had The Most Interesting (And Kind Of Tragic) Rise To Fame

To most of us, Kelsey Grammer will always be Frasier Crane, the fussbudget psychiatrist juggling the pressures of his job with his often-in-shambles personal life. But Frasier isn't the only one who has had to manage a very public career while dealing with personal tragedies; Grammer himself knows this challenge all too well. The astonishing string of tragedies that have followed Grammer, from his rise to fame and beyond, is almost beyond comprehensible. How one person can withstand so much misfortune while simultaneously achieving and maintaining Grammer's level of talent and fame is something truly remarkable.

Allen Kelsey Grammer was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1955. His tumultuous childhood gave way to an equally turbulent adulthood. Yet throughout it all, he carefully cultivated both his abilities and career, going from stage work to television and film. But it is television that has long been Grammer's forte. In addition to Cheers and Frasier, he has starred in the series Back to You, Boss, and The Last Tycoon. Over the course of his career, Grammer has won five Emmys, three Golden Globes, and a Tony.

But in his past and throughout his high-profile career, Grammer has had to weather the storms of some major and life-changing personal setbacks. Below, learn more about these experiences and how they shaped the beloved star.

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  • His Father Was Killed In A Home Invasion

    At the age of 13, Grammer endured a tragedy unimaginable to most people. In 1968, his father, Frank Grammer, rushed out of his home to his car when he noticed someone had set the vehicle on fire. Once he got outside, Arthur Niles shot Frank Grammer twice, then threatened to run over him, prompting Frank's wife (Kelsey's stepmother) to move his lifeless body out of the path of Niles's vehicle. Though found not guilty by reason of insanity, Niles spent more than 25 years in locked psychiatric facilities before being paroled in 1994; he eventually went back to prison for threatening a judge.

    Reflecting on his father's murder and the other tragedies he's lived through, Kelsey Grammer said:

    I just put [that pain] where it is: in the past. But it’s a pain that you can always stumble into again - it's with you 24/7, especially in the case of tragic death, and there have been a few of those. It's just part of life. Maybe I learned a little earlier than most, but it’s just the way it goes.

  • His Sister Was Assaulted And Murdered

    In 1975, Grammer's younger sister, Karen, was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by serial killer Freddie Glenn. She was just 18 years old, Kelsey barely 20. It was Kelsey who had to identify his sister's body. He also had to break the news to their mother, Sally.

    Years later, when Glenn was up for parole, Grammer would speak to his sister's killer. And his words are a lesson in compassion and grace:

    I accept that you actually live with remorse every day of your life, but I live with tragedy every day of mine. 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.

  • His Half-Brothers Were Killed In A Scuba Diving Accident

    In 1980, five years after his sister's death, Grammer was confronted with yet another tragedy. His teenaged twin half-brothers, Stephen and Billy, were both killed in a strange scuba diving accident in St. Thomas. When Billy didn't surface after a dive, Stephen dove in to look for him but was killed by an embolism during an incorrect ascent. Billy has never been found, but the boys' mother insisted they were attacked by sharks. Though we may never know what exactly happened that day, it undoubtedly had a profound impact on Grammer.

  • He Became An Alcoholic And Drug Addict

    Given the gravity and magnitude of the tragedies and heartbreak Grammer had to face in his young life, it's not terribly surprising that substances provided at least a little relief. He has spoken publicly about his addiction to coke and alcohol, much of it fueled by his guilt over not being able to save his beloved little sister.

    "I was her big brother. I was supposed to protect her - I could not... It very nearly destroyed me," he once wrote. After his rise to fame, Grammer would have several run-ins with the law for alcohol and drug-related offenses, including driving under the influence and cocaine possession. He is now sober, citing his Christianity and his participation in Alcoholics Anonymous as his main recovery support systems.

  • He Served Time In Jail

    When his addiction was at its height, Grammer's struggle with substances impeded both his work and personal lives. There were interventions conducted by his colleagues on the sets of both Cheers and Frasier. In 1988, he was arrested for drunk driving and possession of cocaine, for which he was given a 30-day jail sentence. In 1990, he was again arrested for possession, and in 1991, his probation was extended when it was discovered he was still using. Rehab eventually put him on the path to sobriety.

  • He Was Raised By His Grandparents
    Photo: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Valerie S. Guffey / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    He Was Raised By His Grandparents

    At just a year old, Grammer's parents, both musicians, separated. He was then sent from the Virgin Islands to New Jersey, where he was mostly raised by his grandparents. His grandmother was abusive, and Grammer rarely saw his father. By the time Frank Grammer was killed in 1968, Kelsey had seen him only twice since his parents separated. Having such tenuous bonds to his family members while coming of age in an abusive home caused Grammer to retreat into books and make-believe. His first encounter with Julius Caesar, which he read as an adolescent, provided escape and dreams of a stage career.