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Kelsey Grammer Wasn’t The First Choice To Play Frasier

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Today, Kelsey Grammer is just about synonymous with the cynical psychiatrist Frasier Crane, a role he’s maintained for over two decades and counting. But before him, John Lithgow was actually the top pick for the role. Why, and how did the casting end up as it did?

The character of Frasier first emerged as a recurring part of Cheers, only to quickly become a series regular. Another 11 years would be spent on the original run of Frasier, now in the midst of a revival. Had things gone just a bit differently, it would have been Lithgow staying with this character through his long journey.

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Frasier Crane was meant to be played by John Lithgow

John Lithgow was the first choice to play Frasier Crane in Cheers / YouTube

The producers of Cheers actually created Frasier with John Lithgow in mind; the eloquent psychiatrist joined in 1984, and by that point, Lithgow had the highly-praised Terms of Endearment under his belt. The family drama won five of its 11 Academy Award nominations. Lithgow, personally, was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and received similar nominations at other award ceremonies, including the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards and New York Film Critics Circle Awards.

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Lithgow earned all these nominations despite having relatively limited time in the spotlight; he still managed to make people remember his performance, which sounded perfect for Frasier.

There was just one problem: Lithgow didn’t want the part.

How did Kelsey Grammer end up with the role?

TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, John Lithgow, 1983, (c) Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection

There was little affection from Lithgow for Frasier Crane. In fact, he felt that doing episodic television was “beneath his dignity,” writes Screen Rant. He wasn’t wanting for work, either; actually, his schedule was quite full. In ‘84, Lithgow was in Footloose, and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, 2010. He would have at least one – usually more – project lined up each year since.

It was a loss for producers, who felt confident in the performance a character actor such as Lithgow would bring. But they had another powerhouse to choose from. Upon graduation from Julliard, Grammer mostly stuck to theatre, both off and on Broadway. It was a rough start and Grammer brainstormed a way to finally secure his big break. As he continued with promising starts and sudden stops, Grammer crossed paths with his fellow Julliard alum Mandy Patinkin, who put forward Grammer’s name to the New York casting agency looking for their Frasier Crane.

Lithgow did not regret turning down the role, believing Grammer did it bestJim Cornfield / TV Guide /© / NBC / Courtesy Everett Collection

Nobody laughed during Grammer’s audition and he remembered thinking, “I’m done. I blew this completely.” While the reaction seemed dismaying enough Grammer was ready to try and wring out laughs on the street, Shelley Long, with whom he read for his audition, was adamant he, out of the others she read with, was the one, asserting, “it was so obviously Kelsey.”

As for Lithgow, he doesn’t regret passing on the role of Frasier – because he insists the character became so beloved purely because of Grammer’s performance.

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