05/17/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT
David Hyde Pierce had pretty much wrung his eyes dry in the week leading up to the final taping of NBC's Frasier. But a lump rose in his throat at the final curtain call March 23 when the studio audience of family and friends applauded the one cast member who hadn't even been told that the show was at the end of its 11-year run: Moose, the now 14-year-old Jack Russell terrier who'd originated the role of Eddie in 1993. "It was one of the most moving things I saw that night," says Hyde Pierce, 45. "Moose is pretty old and pretty heavy, snow white and stone deaf. But he knows when people are applauding. It was great for him to get his due."
If it's the humans who deserve the real thanks for this classy sitcom about urbane (read: snobby) radio psychiatrist Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer), his equally pompous brother Niles (Hyde Pierce) and their salt-of-the-earth ex-cop father, Martin (John Mahoney). After 264 episodes and 31 Emmys—a record—the Cheers spinoff signs off May 13 with an hour-long episode. The wrap-up twists "are beautiful and unexpected," says Jane Leeves, 43, who played physical therapist Daphne. "Nice to see everybody go off into their futures." Niles and Daphne have a baby, Martin heads to the altar with lounge singer Ronnie (Wendie Malick)—and maybe Frasier finds love? Just don't expect a cameo from Bebe Neuwirth, who played Frasier's uptight ex, Lillith, a decision that sparked some debate in the Grammer household. "My wife is one of those people who thinks they should get back together," he says.
For the actors, the last days turned into a long, tearful goodbye, especially during rehearsals and the taping of the finale (which will include a quiet tribute to series co-creator David Angell, who died with wife Lynn on American Airlines Flight 11 on 9/11). The Frasier cast felt like family. "I got married at Kelsey's house," says Peri Gilpin, 42, who played Frasier's producer, Roz Doyle. "Jane was a bridesmaid, and I had my rehearsal dinner at her house. David, John and Jane sang at my wedding." Says Mahoney: "We're as close as you can get without coming from the same mother." But they all realized they needed to preserve the show's light tone. The crew helped, donning T-shirts with gold lettering that borrowed a line from the show's theme song: "Frasier has left the building."
And right after that he went to Hawaii. The cast treated the entire production team—some 400 people, including guests—to a five-day vacation. "I saw people in bathing suits I never expected to see," Gilpin says, laughing, "and I kind of hope I never see that again." On the final night everyone assembled on the beach for a luau. Because Mahoney was MIA, rehearsing a play in Chicago, "we got out a cell phone," says Hyde Pierce, "and left him a message. We screamed, 'Aloha!' "
Back in Hollywood, the set was carted off to storage, although Grammer will keep the Steinway from Frasier's apartment. "A nice memento," he says. Hyde Pierce, meanwhile, is treasuring his memories of the show. "It's amazing how quickly it all recedes," he says. "Like a hairline."
Tom Gliatto. Monica Rizzo and Alexis Chiu in Los Angeles