learning and development, Learning Delivery

John Mahoney and Marty Crane Taught Us How to Cope With Life and Work

Mahoney’s recent death is a reminder to never stop learning. And that sipping a beer in a recliner is one way to deal with your annoying kids.
Pictured ensemble member John Mahoney.

Pictured ensemble member John Mahoney. Photo from the Steppenwolf Theatre Co.

Crack open a can of Ballantine beer and sit in your favorite ugly easy chair. Let’s take a moment to commemorate the life of John Mahoney, the actor who played Marty Crane on the long-running TV sitcom Frasier. Mahoney died at the age of 77 on Feb. 4 in Chicago while in hospice care.

I’ve written about this television show before in the sense that its focus on mental health and psychiatry brings up many issues related to he workplace. But by focusing on this, I’ve ignored the working-class former cop and retiree, Marty Crane, not to mention the opera-loving theater geek who played him, John Mahoney.

I’d like to share a few lessons in work and life that Mahoney and Marty both gave us.

First, it’s never too late to change your career path. Manchester, England-born Mahoney was a 37-year-old teacher and editor in the United States when he decided to take a stab at acting. Eventually he joined the Chicago-based Steppenwolf ensemble, and in 1993 he got the role of Marty Crane in Frasier, a gig that lasted 11 seasons. He won a SAG award for the role as well as two Emmy and two Golden Globe nominations. In 1986 he won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his performance in “The House of Blue Leaves.”

I find this especially relevant in today’s workforce, where employees need to continuously learn new skills. Many people worry that their jobs won’t even exist in a few years thanks to technological developments like automation and artificial intelligence.

Even though the prospect of having to totally uproot your life and change careers might feel unsettling, it could very well work out.

[Also read: “The Future of Workplace Learning”]

I’m not saying everyone’s going to go on to become a Tony-winning actor, but they can take continuing studies classes, go back to school and get education in some in-demand skill. It doesn’t matter if they’re 20, 40 or 50. Mahoney’s life and accomplishments show so beautifully the value of being curious about everything you don’t know, following a passion or a hobby if it gives you joy and taking calculated risks throughout your life.

Pictured (L to R) ensemble member John Mahoney and ensemble member Martha Lavey in Steppenwolf’s production of Supple in Combat (1996). Photo credit Michael Brosilow.

Pictured (L to R) ensemble member John Mahoney and ensemble member Martha Lavey in Steppenwolf’s production of Supple in Combat (1996). Photo credit Michael Brosilow.

Second, have a healthy ego and respect other people. Mahoney wasn’t known to be an attention-seeking, over-the-top actor. Actually, he was known to be a private, respectful man.

I think a lot of people can learn something from this, especially now. Think of how many social movements or lawsuits happen because of lack of respect. (I think of our legal blogger Jon Hyman’s “Worst Employer of 2018” contest, for example). Respect and self-respect could go a long way in a creating a better environment for everyone.

An excerpt from the Chicago Tribune demonstrates this attitude in Mahoney’s own words. “I have a little mantra that I say probably 20 or 30 times throughout the day: ‘Dear God, please help me to treat everybody — including myself — with love, respect, and dignity,'” he said, according to the article.

Marty teaches a lot of valuable lessons on mental health. While his TV sons Frasier and Niles overthink and ruminate on every problem or awkward situation they create, Marty has a much more simplistic way of dealing with things. Yes, when problems are real, he deals, but when his sons are going crazy about something silly, he lets them know.

There are enough real things to worry about that letting the silly stuff get you stressed isn’t worth it. Personally, I think employers and employees could both take this to heart.

TheSeafarer3_JohnMahoney: Pictured ensemble member John Mahoney in Steppenwolf’s production of The Seafarer (2008). Photo credit Michael Brosilow

Pictured ensemble member John Mahoney in Steppenwolf’s production of The Seafarer (2008). Photo credit Michael Brosilow.

There’s a lot of talk about the impact of stress, anxiety and depression on the workplace. Obviously, some situations are unavoidable. But there are times when it can be avoided.

Which brings me to one of my favorite Marty Crane moments, one in which Mahoney got to add some of himself in a character that was very different from him. Marty Crane was famously a sports-loving, beer-drinking retired cop who often became frustrated with his sons’ pretentiousness or sad that he didn’t have anything in common with his boys. In real life, Mahoney introduced opera to David Hyde Pierce and Kelsey Grammar, the actors who played his pretentious, theater-loving sons.

At the end of Season 11’s “Freudian Sleep,” Mahoney got the chance to add some theatrics to his character. In the course the story, the other four members of the main cast get upset over silly dreams that mean nothing. Their bickering wakes up Marty, who yells at them for whining and not appreciating what they’ve got going. We get a peek at his own dream, where he’s singing “On the Sunny Side of the Street” with his fiancé Ronee.

It’s a short, energetic, Broadway-style number, and it shows Marty Crain’s and John Mahoney’s attitude and simple philosophy. Don’t stress the small stuff and appreciate what makes your life good.

Andie Burjek is a Workforce associate editor. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.