In His Most Arresting Performance, Cheers Star Kelsey Grammer Runs Afoul of Booze, Coke and L.a. Law
06/04/1990 at 01:00 AM EDT
Life does not always imitate art, nor is Kelsey Grammer the fastidious expert on human behavior he plays on TV. In real life, Grammer, who portrays the stuffy, uptight psychiatrist Frasier Crane on Cheers, is a convicted drunk driver who has just been sentenced to 30 days in jail—and faces cocaine-possession charges which could imprison him for up to three years. The irony of his case is that, had Grammer not simply skipped a whole series of court appointments, his legal troubles would be behind him now.
Why in the world would the popular actor, 35, repeatedly fail to show up for his hearings? The explanation proffered by Grammer's lawyer does not quite clear up the question. "He's just easily distracted," insists his attorney, Robert L. Diamond. "To most people, staying out of jail would be the most important thing in their lives. He's not really geared that way."
Apparently. The odd path that led to Grammer's sentence—30 days behind bars, plus 10 days collecting highway trash—began in July 1987, when he was arrested in L.A. for being "under the influence of an alcoholic beverage and a drug" and driving without a license. He was put on probation and ordered into a rehabilitation program, a typical sentence for a first offender. But in October 1988, Grammer, who was born on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands and appeared in New York City Shakespeare productions in the early '80s, failed to show up in court to prove he had completed rehab. Probation was revoked, only to be reinstated 10 months later. Then last February, he missed another hearing. On May 16, despite a plea from Cheers's Kirstie Alley, an exasperated Municipal Court Judge Patricia Gorner Schwartz lowered the boom on Grammer.
"He probably." Diamond admits, "holds the record for the heaviest sentence for first-time drunk driving."
Grammer's behavior with his drug charge follows the same pattern. Arrested in April 1988 in possession of about $25 worth of cocaine, he got off to a bad start by missing his arraignment—twice. He was finally ordered into a drug rehab program. "I describe it as very similar to traffic school," says Deputy DA Andrew W. Diamond (who isn't related to Grammer's attorney). "You go, you get a certificate, and then you get the charge dismissed." Even those terms proved too stern for Grammer. Last May 2 he again failed to report his progress in court, and an arrest warrant was issued. On May 10, Grammer told Judge Aviva K. Bobb he hadn't appeared because he was distracted by the medical problems of his girlfriend, Cerlette Lamme, an ex-professional ice skater. "We all have other responsibilities," the judge noted curtly, releasing him on $7,500 bail and scheduling his hearing.
Despite articles in the tabloids attributing Grammer's waywardness to a heavy regimen of booze and partying, his attorney insists the sick girlfriend story is true. Diamond says Lamme suffered seizures because "there was pressure on her sinuses, pushing on her nerves." The problem was cleared up by surgery "but from October through March. Grammer didn't know what was causing it," and the stress kept him off balance. "He's been real worried about me," Lamme says. "I know it's no excuse, but it's true." Adds Diamond: "He was counting on his girlfriend; she normally would have reminded him. He leads a life where people continually tell him what to do the next day. When someone says, 'See you in February 1990,' he just can't keep that kind of calendar."
The rented Van Nuys house that Grammer and Lamme share does indeed bespeak a certain inattention to detail, and it is an unusual residence for a successful actor. The one-story white house is dilapidated, the yard overgrown with weeds. A heap of bricks leans against the house's front, windows are propped open, tattered bamboo shades hang askew, and the only hints of affluence are three big white cars. Some neighbors are sure that endless partying goes on inside; others call Grammer and Lamme model citizens.
Despite his woes, Grammer's role on Cheers seems safe for now: James Burrows, executive producer and director, has said he "looks forward to another great season with a very talented actor." Adds Diamond: "They know he's a really talented guy. The only thing he isn't good at is appointments and dates."
One date Kelsey Grammer will keep is this Wednesday, May 30. That's the day he is scheduled to be escorted from Los Angeles County jail to face his cocaine charge.
—Michael Neill, Nancy Matsumoto in Los Angeles