Galway pays tribute to actor John Mahoney

Frasier star was local favourite following numerous arts festival appearances

The late John Mahoney in the role of Marty Crane in classic US sitcom, Frasier.

The late John Mahoney in the role of Marty Crane in classic US sitcom, Frasier.

He was the cantankerous, but loveable, father in the now classic 1990s comedy Frasier. He lit up the stage during numerous appearances over the years at the Galway Arts Festival, and he has been called a "wonderful, sweet and gentle man".

John Mahoney, the actor best known for playing cranky Marty Crane on Frasier, and who was a favourite of Galway audiences for the many leading theatre roles he performed in this city, died on Sunday in Chicago at the age of 77.

Mahoney was born to an Irish family, with Cork roots, in Blackpool, Lancashire, and emigrated to Chicago at the age of 19. He worked as a teacher of English and editor of a medical magazine, only turning to acting in his late thirties, joining Steppenwolf Theatre on the suggestion of actor John Malkovich. He starred in Frasier from 1993 to 2004, and his role as Marty Crane earned him two Emmy nominations, two Golden Globe nominations, and a Screen Actors Guild award.

He also starred in the films Tin Men, In The Line of Fire, Reality Bites, Say Anything, The American President, Primal Fear, Barton Fink, and made guest appearances in Foyle’s War and ER. His final role was in The Rembrandt at Steppenwolf in Chicago last October.

Mahoney made his Galway debut in 2000 with a production of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night. His other memorable appearances in Galway were in Bruce Graham's The Outgoing Tide, where he played an older man battling the onset of Alzheimer's, and in Chapatti by Galway playwright Christian O'Reilly. Indeed he once said, "Whenever I do a new play, I don't wish for a Broadway transfer – I wish for an invitation to take it to the Galway Arts Festival."

Galway has been paying tribute to the actor, with Paul Fahy, artistic director of the Galway International Arts Festival, saying, "We were shocked and saddened to hear of John’s passing. He was one of the best actors to grace the stage, he made everything seem effortless, it was like watching a masterclass every time. He was a true man of the theatre. What a wonderful, sweet and gentle man he was. He was impossible not to love and a pleasure to know. We will miss him very much."

'Although he was not Irish, he had a love for this country and its arts scene befitting a true native'

Playwright Christian O’Reilly said it was "a joy and a privilege" to work with Mahoney on Chapatti. "When I left a copy of the play for him at the Town Hall, it was more in hope than expectation he would read it," he says. "I was thrilled to receive his email a couple of months later saying he loved the play and wanted to play the part of Dan. Such was his status that Northlight and Galway International Arts Festival quickly came on board to produce it.

"I was a little intimated when I first met him before a public reading in Chicago, but he was so down to earth, so unassuming, so complimentary of the play that he immediately put me at ease. He was so hard-working in rehearsals, so open to feedback, so hard on himself, so eager to do the play justice. I loved the humanity, humour, and heart in his performance and, along with Penny Slusher, who played opposite him, they charmed and moved audiences in Chicago and Galway. It was a blessing to work with someone of such talent and humility. I will always be grateful for the experience. Thank you, Mr Mahoney. You will be missed."

As a mark of respect to the actor, the Minister for the Diaspora and International Development, and Fine Gael Galway East TD Ciaran Cannon, has suggested the Galway International Arts Festival "dim theatre lights in his honour".

"It is a tradition on Broadway that when an actor associated with its theatres dies, they dim the house lights for one minute to acknowledge the passing of a great artist," Minister Cannon said. "I hope the arts festival will consider paying a similar gesture at one of the festival productions, for an actor who, although he was not Irish, had a love for this country and its arts scene befitting a true native."

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