Death of a kind man

Here, have a tissue. You might need it.

Actor Kelsey Grammer tweeted the perfect message in honor of John Mahoney, the actor who played his elderly father on the TV series “Frasier.”

Mahoney, who died Sunday, was just 53 when he started playing the part that endeared him so much to the audience that his death this week has elicited a reaction not usually given to supporting actors.

His character was the “moral center” of the show, an executive producer told the New York Times.

Mahoney as a moral center maybe wasn’t a writer’s concoction. Mahoney didn’t start acting until he was 37, and he went to church.

“It was just about the most emotional thing that ever happened to me,” he told the author of “The God Factor.”

I don’t know where it came from, I just had a little breakdown of some sort, and after that, made a conscious effort to be a better person, to be a part of the world, and to try to revolve around everyone else in the world instead of expecting them to revolve around me.

He quit his job as editor of a medical magazine and headed for the stage where he got work because there were plenty of supporting roles for older actors. There’s a lesson in life there somewhere.

“Mahoney was a big reason why a discussion of the great casts of TV history must include ‘Frasier’,” critic Adam Buckman writes.

“His two scenes in ‘Moonstruck’ add up to my favorite early work of his, comprising a perfect little one-act play in the middle of a movie that has gotten even better with age. Just like Mahoney, come to think of it,” Chicago Tribune columnist Michael Philips says.

“The scene, followed by a shorter one on the street, is wonderful a dozen different ways, starting with the slight, flustered delay Mahoney fills so beautifully after [Olympia] Dukakis asks him why men chase women,” Phillips said.

His one-word blurt of an answer: “Nerves.” From there the professor grows unexpectedly reflective, and melancholy, and then superficially charming again. The wolf in the sheep’s clothes returns.

Mahoney’s touch is feather-light but completely true. It’s like watching a character really think, hard, about difficult matters for the first time in his life, before scurrying back to safety.

“He was a kind man,” Phillips said, noting a thank-you note Mahoney sent him on Holiday Inn stationery after Phillips mentioned Mahoney when writing about a production Mahoney wasn’t even in.

Maybe that’s why his death resonated. These days, we don’t seem to have a problem of too many kind men. Perhaps you’ve noticed.

NPR was to present a remembrance of Mahoney during today’s “Morning Edition,” but the crunch of front-page news forced the network to scrap it.

The death of a supporting actor is a lot like the life of one.