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- July 05, 1993
- Vol. 40
- No. 1
Cheers and Tears
For Kelsey Grammer, Divorcing Wife and Losing An Unborn Child Is the Latest of Life's Cruel Blows
But it was a terse and cheerless message that Grammer, 38, delivered via his attorney Leon Bennett on June 3. Wed just nine months ago to his second wife, Leigh-Anne Csuhany. 23, a former exotic dancer he had met early last year at an L.A. strip joint, Grammer had now decided to call it quits. He was seeking not a divorce but an annulment, charging his spouse with "fraud" and being of "unsound mind." He did not elaborate. Nor did he explain why he was taking the unusual step of demanding custody of the couple's unborn child, with whom Csuhany was three months pregnant.
That same day, under court order to vacate Grammer's four-bedroom Spanish-style villa in the affluent L.A. suburb of Agoura Hills, Csuhany left and later checked into the Malibu Beach Inn, an oceanfront hotel 10 miles away. It was there, five days later, that L.A. County sheriffs deputies, alerted by Csuhany's therapist, found her in her room, sprawled on the door semiconscious. Five empty Tylenol containers and a half-empty bottle of red wine lay nearby, along with a suicide note that reportedly read, "[Kelsey] doesn't love me."
After being rushed by paramedics to nearby Santa Monica Hospital, Csuhany had her stomach pumped, and she was put under psychiatric observation. A few days later the pregnancy was aborted. Grammer, meanwhile, secluded himself at home, declined PEOPLE's request for an interview and released a statement that said only, "I am deeply saddened by the events leading to the loss of the unborn child...I had dreamed of raising the baby in a stable and loving environment." Says a friend: "He's extremely upset about this. Just when things are going well with him, a tragic event like this seems to happen."
Indeed, the breakup of his marriage and the loss of his child arc but the latest in a plague of afflictions that Grammer, Job-like, has endured ever since childhood. When he was just 13, his father was shot to death in his living room by a deranged intruder: when Grammer was 20, his adored younger sister was raped and fatally stabbed: at 25. he learned that his two young half brothers had died together in a freak scuba-diving accident and that one was believed killed by sharks.
Haunted as he has been by these losses—his sister Karen's death, especially, "opened up an emotional hole in my life," he has said—Grammer has also wrestled with demons more of his own making. The friends who continue to support him recall his trials, both legal and emotional, when he was hauled into court a few years ago for probation violations stemming from separate, well-publicized arrests in 1987 (for drunk driving) and 1988 (for cocaine possession).
Other actors might have seen their careers implode from such negative exposure. Not Grammer. Quite unlike the smug Brahmin barfly he plays on TV, he is regarded by friends and colleagues as a genuinely sympathetic character who was sincerely remorseful for his very public travails. At the first Cheers rehearsal after violating his drunk-driving probation, recalls actor Paul Willson, who played rotund Cheers habitué Paul: "He said, 'I have to go to court. I'm really sorry, and I hope it doesn't have grave consequences for the show.' " Even Grammer's former lover Cerlette Lammé, 33, whom he left after seven years to lake up with Csuhany, today maintains that he is a "warm and wonderful man, a beautiful man."
But he is also a man who has helped to create a very complicated life for himself. While still living with Lammé, a former professional ice skater, Grammer fathered a child out of wedlock with Barrie Buckner, a bartender and part-time movie makeup artist. He now pays child support for their daughter, Greer, 16 months old, and $7,000 monthly to help rear his other daughter, Spencer, 9, from his two-year marriage to first wife Doreen Alderman, a dance instructor who was divorced from Grammer in 1990 after a six-year separation.
Some believe that the pressure of fame itself is a heavy contributor to his troubles. "He's a very kind and sensitive man," says Jean Kasem, a former Cheers semi regular (as would-be showgirl Loretta Tortelli), "and men like Kelsey who are successful in this town are preyed upon a lot by women." According to Lammé "Women would walk right past me and sit on his lap. They'd call our [hotel] room and invite him down for a drink. He would sign autographs forever. I had to he the bad guy and make people stop."
The most convincing testimony to Grammer's good nature, in fact, may be the ongoing support from Lammé who. despite their painful breakup, remains fiercely protective of him. "I still love him, and I know lie loves me," she says. "I don't know what he saw in her, but Leigh-Anne was lucky to many him. He's kind and loving. But he's so self-destructive. Sometimes I think he feels he doesn't deserve what he has in life."
It seems, then, that despite the words of the Cheers theme song, troubles are not all the same—at least not when they come to Kelsey Grammer. Born on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, he was only 2 when his parents divorced. Allen Grammer, a local bar-and-grill owner, stayed on in St. Thomas while Sally, a homemaker who never adjusted to life on the islands, took Kelsey and Karen back first to her parents" home in New Jersey and then, in 1967, to Pompano Beach, Fla.
Just before midnight on April 25, 1968, Allen Grammer heard an intruder on the grounds of the lagoon-front home he shared with his second wife, Elizabeth (nicknamed Skeets), and their four children (Betty, John, Billy and Stephen). Allen went to investigate. Skeets, now 58, remembers the sound of a gunshot and her husband's voice shouting, "Call the police! I've been shot!" There was another shut, and Grammer, 38, lay dead. His assailant was a cab driver who was later tried and found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Even before his father's death, Kelsey was a troubled child. He had discovered alcohol by age 9, and by the time he was a teenager he was drinking frequently. "We had wild, all-night parties and drank too much," recalls a classmate of Kelsey at Pine Crest, the private school they attended in Fort Lauderdale. For the most part, though, Kelsey was "a rebel—smart, a bit of an outsider, but sweet," in the words of a friend.
It was also at Pine Crest that he discovered acting, and in 1973. after graduating from high school, the talented young drama student was accepted into the theater program at New York City's prestigious Juilliard School. Fellow students remember him as an eccentric. "It would be 20 degrees below zero," says Tom Waites, now an aspiring playwright, "and he would be in sandals, cutoff shorts and a Hawaiian shirt." But Grammer was also, says Waites, "the type of guy who would look out for other people. If you were having a tough day he'd sense it and come over and say, 'Hey, what's up?' "
But Grammer had tough days too. After two years at Juilliard, he was expelled for what he later described as a lack of discipline. And then a new set of family tragedies sent him reeling.
The first of these—and the most devastating—began on the night of June 30, 1975. His sister Karen, then 18, was sitting on a curb outside the Colorado Springs restaurant where she worked as a waitress when three men who had been planning a robbery pulled up. They forced Karen into their car and, according to police records, took her to an apartment, where at least one of them raped her. Then she was dumped in an alley. "Raise your head." one of the men told her. When she did he cut her throat, stabbed her and drove off with his accomplices. Somehow, Karen managed to crawl to a nearly trailer park, where her body was found the next morning. (A few months later three men were arrested; one was given the death sentence for Karen's murder.)
It was Kelsey who claimed his sister's belongings, brought her back to Pompano Beach for burial and continued to be haunted by the terrible memory of her death. "That was the worst part of my life," he once said, but it was Cerlette Lammé who saw its full impact. "He still cries about her," she says. "I don't know if he blames himself, but sometimes I think he wishes he could haw been there to save her.
Nor was Kelsey able to prevent the bizarre deaths of his half brothers Stephen and Billy five years later. On June 1, 1980, the two were scuba diving off St. Thomas when Billy failed to surface. Stephen plunged in to find him but suffered a fatal embolism during an improper ascent. Billy's body was never recovered; his mother, Skeets, remains convinced he was eaten by sharks.
By the late '70s, Grammer had begun experimenting with marijuana, Valium and the hallucinogenic drug Ecstasy. But he still managed to build an acting career. When he met Laimmé in 1984, he was performing in L.A.'s Mark Taper Forum production of Measure for Measure, and she was in the audience. Grammer spotted her and sent a note ("I still have it," she say's. blushing) asking for a date. At the time, he was separated from his first wife and, as Lammé recalls, living "in this hole-in-the-wall in Venice [Calif.]. He used to drive around on his motorcycle wearing shorts and a crazy shirt. That's the guy I fell in love with." Soon they were sharing a rundown four-bedroom rented house in Van Nuys, with weeds choking the backyard and Grammer's six dogs and 12 eats (rescued from local pounds) swarming about.
After Grammer landed his Cheers role in 1984, Lammé helped manage his business dealings but couldn't keep up with his frequent barhopping—or his cocaine habit. The snorted coke together for five months in the late '80s, she says, "but I didn't like it, so he did it without me." After belatedly enrolling in a court-ordered rehab program, Grammer, she insists, stayed happily clean and sober dining the couple's last two years together.
Their relationship began to falter when she learned of Grammer's affair with Barrie Buckner in 1991, then it fell apart last year when he confessed that he had fallen in love with Csuhany. "I couldn't take the cheating," Lammé says. That spring the couple finally split, and Csuhany moved into the Agoura Hills house Grammer had purchased a few months before. Last August police responding to a frantic call horn the actor arrived at the villa to find Grammer with a shiner—courtesy of Csuhany. But he refused to press assault charges, and less than three weeks later, on Sept. 11, the couple eloped. Still, wedded bliss was elusive. According to a friend of Kelsey's, "She would publicly humiliate him. She said, 'I'll cut off your balls if you look at another woman.' And they were newlyweds. He would just die."
Things seemed to be improving last April, when Grammer proudly revealed on Arsenio that his wife was expecting in December. But on June 2 he showed up at the Calabasas sheriffs office, near his home, seeking an emergency restraining order against Csuhany, who, he said, had told one of his friends that she was going to shoot her husband and burn down the house. The next day, Grammer announced his plans to end the marriage.
His only consolation now seems to he his career—and Frasier. his fall spinoff series, in which the good Dr. Crane leaves Boston to resettle in Seattle as a radio call-in psychiatrist. Grammer starts filming next month, and the early buzz on the show is excellent. And if Frasier should flop? Well, Grammer can always go back to the Bard. One April evening last year, while playing the title role in Richard II at Mark Taper Forum, Grammer found himself competing with an earthquake. Registering 6.1 on the Richter scale, the quake caused the seats in the theater to tremble. Yet the audience stayed put, mesmerized by the actor onstage. The other upheavals in his life, unfortunately, have never been so easily ignored.
MICHAEL A. LIPTON
TOM CUNNEFF and LORENZO BENET in Los Angeles, BILL STEIF in St. Thomas, BRYAN ALEXANDER in New York City, VICKIE BANE in Colorado Springs and GREG AUNAPU in Pompano Beach
- Tom Cunneff,
- Lorenzo Benet,
- Bill Steif,
- Bryan Alexander,
- Vickie Bane,
- Greg Aunapu.
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