It’s a testament to how great an actor John Mahoney was that he could not have been more different than Martin Crane, the crotchety ex-cop he played on Frasier. “He was an absolute delight to be around,” Wendie Malick, who became his TV wife, exclusively tells Closer Weekly. “He was a real gentleman.” John, who reportedly died of multiple ailments, including brain disease, at 77 on Feb. 4, was born in England amid the bombings of World War II. He emigrated to America and joined the US Army, becoming a citizen in 1959.

He later worked as an English teacher and medical-journal editor and didn’t start acting until he was 37. “I learned by doing it,” he said, spending years at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre before getting his break in 1987’s Tin Men. Scene-stealing roles in Moonstruck and Say Anything followed. Then came Martin Crane.

the cast of frasier getty images

The cast of Frasier.

Frasier was a classy gig,” said John, who earned two Emmy nods for his expert turn as Martin, who loved his dog, Eddie, almost as much as his snooty sons, played by Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce. John said, “I didn’t think for one minute it was less prestigious or artistic than doing a play.” That sense of professionalism shone through in all of John’s performances.

“He found great joy in the craft,” says Wendie, who also co-starred with him in The American President and Hot in Cleveland. Ironically, John excelled at playing fathers, even though he had no kids. “He was married to his work,” says Wendie. Say Anything co-star John Cusack admits, “He always said it took him a long time to find out what he loved — and he loved performing. He was so happy to be there.”

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