Grammer recently received critical acclaim as the voice of Stinky Pete the Prospector in Toy Story 2, and landed a role in Fifteen Minutes, due out this fall. The film casts him alongside Robert DeNiro, whom Grammer mentions along with Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, and John Wayne on his short list of actors he admires. He plays an unscrupulous television journalist named Robert Hawkins who, in Grammer’s words, “takes liberties with the facts in order to present a good story.” It’s an intriguing turn, one that calls upon both the actor’s comedic gifts and his dramatic training, and it should do well to distance Grammer from Frasier.
With all the publicity Grammer’s personal life has attracted, one would think that the Grammer/Frasier distinction would be more clear. Grammer is candid about battles with alcohol that led him to a month-long stint in jail and, ultimately, the Betty Ford Clinic. There’s the tragic childhood that saw his father and sister murdered, the bizarre accidental deaths of two half-brothers, and a pair of failed marriages. “I’m an open book,” he says of his not-so-personal personal life.
But that’s all behind Grammer. He has been clean and sober since 1996, with the help of the 12 Steps. A cigar is just about the only vice he’ll permit himself to indulge in these days, and even this pastime is enjoyed in moderation. Grammer saw his cigar intake increase dramatically a few years back while weaning himself off cigarettes - Cohibas and Romeo y Julietas, in a robusto or petit corona size, were his favorites - but now he’s cutting back a little on the stogies too, saving his Cubans for special occasions and special friends.
“I’ll enjoy a cigar after dinner,” he says, mentioning a Dunhill figurado that particularly struck his fancy recently, “usually in a quiet atmosphere. Cigars are perfect accompaniments to a great conversation, preferably with one person. I’m not for sitting around in a circle full of boys, puffing up. I like the more personal event.”
Grammer adds that he’ll always spark up his cigars outside the house, prompting a smile from Camille. A former dancer on “Club MTV” and music video director, she’s a stunner, a gorgeous blonde. They met through Grammer’s agent, at a dinner that no one labeled a blind date until it had accomplished its desired purpose. A few days after the fateful dinner, the two attended a Yankee game. Grammer remembers the Yankees trailing the Indians, and Wade Boggs - yes, another “Cheers” alum - the would-be tying run, was stranded on third. The Yankees lost, but Kelsey and Camille hardly noticed.
Two-and-a-half years after their marriage, the two still look like lovestruck schoolkids. They divide their time between homes in Malibu, Greenwich Village, Maui, and upstate New York. After a few nights in New York City, they’re off to the house upstate, outside Woodstock. They’ll ski, frolic, and not watch the Super Bowl. There’s a blanket of snow that surrounds their rustic house, waiting to be admired by a couple that spends most of its time in Southern California. Not that living on a 17-acre estate that overlooks the Pacific Ocean is a bad thing, particularly for a guy who grew up appreciating good surfing as much as Lincoln Center theater and El Greco art.
“We’re gonna finish that goddamn house in Malibu,” says Grammer, raised in New Jersey and Florida. It’s his first curse since the tape started rolling an hour before. He jokingly refers to the spread as “The Grammer Compound,” and speaks of the pond, the horses, his five dogs, and the accursed house, a SoCal Gothic thing they’re fixing up that he describes as “something out of late 1500s Romania.”
In the morning, they’ll drive north out of Manhattan, listening to a trove of CDs that appear to be stolen from someone half their age. The Grammers like Kid Rock, Korn, and Limp Bizkit. Kelsey sings a few lines from a Primus song. He and Camille adore Jamiroquai, and both rave about the new Santana disc. His musical taste seems more meat and potatoes than tossed salad and scrambled eggs. Or is it?
Grammer mentions a CD he recorded a few years back; he identifies the World War II-era music as “old fart songs,” while Camille, 31, rolls her eyes and opts for “elevator music.” In deference to his wife, Grammer never released it, so we’ll have to be content with the jazzy “Frasier” theme each Thursday. I ask him how he got to perform the song. “I just told them I wanted to sing the theme song,” Grammer says with that sinister laugh. “I throw my weight around once in awhile.”
It’s been a long day for Kelsey and Camille, and we wrap things up. The tape recorder is turned off, and a few well-placed curses sneak back into his prodigious vocabulary. We speak of golf - Grammer says he shoots anywhere between 85 and 150 - and then of L.A. and New York, and their respective horizontal and vertical layouts. This segues into a discussion of a Buddy Rich drum solo he once witnessed, one that coupled the horizontal and the vertical through Rich’s north-south drumbeats and east-west cymbal caresses. Then it’s a 1970 Jimi Hendrix concert in Miami that Grammer drove a green Corvair van six hours to see. It’s pretty heady stuff.
As such, it seems safe to put my professionalism aside for a moment, so I do, and ask Grammer for an autograph that a SMOKE secretary, a young gal who thinks Frasier’s “the bomb,” has been bugging me for. He cheerily obliges.
Grammer crafts the autograph for a few moments and pushes back from the table to peruse his writing, which admonishes the secretary “not to take too much crap from this guy.” He seems happy with it and hands it over to me. Uncharacteristic of Hollywood Types - a label Kelsey Grammer now wears proudly after 16 years of doing his part to raise the bar, to make sitcoms something you can discuss at a dinner party - Grammer thanks me for the interview. That makes five thank you’s - five or so more than you might get from a typical Hollywood Type over the lifetime of your typical Hollywood sitcom.
“I’ve been a bad celebrity,” Frasier lamented on the episode where he was fired by the radio station, and realizes he’s taken his celebrity for granted. That’s not the case with Kelsey Grammer these days. A theater guy in a TV town, a man of manners making his living in a place where politesse is about as common as snow, he won’t always be Frasier, but he’ll always be Kelsey. It’s a role he seems to enjoy.