In the 1990s, everyone knew Brendan Fraser. But then just as quickly as he blazed on the scene in favorites like The Mummy, he vanished from the limelight. Almost no one knew why, until recently. Read on to discover the strange spiral of Brendan Fraser’s life.
On December 3rd, 1968, Peter and Carol Fraser welcomed their fourth boy into the world, Brendan Fraser. It was far from idyllic. Fraser's childhood was extremely itinerant. Throughout his youth he moved to California, Washington, across borders to Canada, even overseas to London. In fact, it was in London that he met his fate.
The city of Shakespeare inspired in Brendan a lifelong passion for acting, which prompted him to take on any role he could find. It wasn't glamorous: At one point, he juggled in a department store, and in another, he wore armor for a battle scene. In order to get through these menial tasks, he made sure to always remind himself that he was "still an actor".
Soon enough, though, things would change for the better.
Thinking to advance his career, Fraser had his sights set on a school in Texas—but before traveling there, he wanted to make a pitstop in Hollywood. This small decision changed his life forever. Somehow, he luckily managed to land a role in the film Dogfight starring River Phoenix. He was only "Sailor #1", but this bit part ended up showing off Fraser's secret weapon.
Some stars are peevish about ruining their clothing, let alone their ribs. Well, not Brendan Fraser, who wore his bruises like badges. After a brawl scene required him to fall back into a pinball machine, Fraser recalls thinking, "That’s okay! I’ll take it. I can do it again. If you want, I’ll break it". This action-centric optimism would come to define his career, and his big break was just around the corner.
In 1992, Fraser starred in the hit comedy Encino Man, about a caveman let loose on modern California, and became a bona fide star in the process. But no one knew what he had to do to get the part. For the audition, producers asked Fraser to...wrestle with a plant. Apparently, he was so good at communicating the strange wonder of the caveman, producers decided they had to have him.
With the success of Encino Man, Fraser had officially "made" it. But there was one thing missing.
In 1993, Brendan attended fellow star Winona Ryder's Fourth of July BBQ. This high profile gathering, however, soon gained an entirely different purpose for Brendan. It's where he met Afton Smith, a struggling actress exactly one year his senior. And soon, their birthday wasn't the only thing they shared.
Afton and Brendan quickly discovered that they could connect on a deeper level. The pair first became friends, then fell into a serious relationship while Fraser worked on his career. But not everything was going perfectly.
Just as Fraser's personal life was heating up, he made a major professional mistake. The director David Kellogg reached out to Fraser, offering him the lead role of Inspector Gadget; he refused. Unfortunately for him, Inspector Gadget became a box office sensation. Why did he say no to that? Well, the star had his eyes on a different project.
Fraser may have accidentally dodged megastardom by refusing one role, but he was about to reach the same destination through another path. In a role that in many ways recalled the prehistoric figure he played in Encino Man, Fraser again played a character more in touch with nature in George of the Jungle.
But this was no walk in the park, for more reasons than one.
A role like George of the Jungle requires a lot of baby oil and buffing up, so Fraser reportedly went to personal trainer Daniel S Field to pump some iron in preparation. It turned into a nightmare. Field later claimed that Fraser had promised to put him in the credits as a trainer, but when the day came, his name wasn't there. The fallout was brutal.
In the end, Field sued Fraser over this allegedly broken promise. In court, Field didn't hesitate to throw insults Fraser's way, making sure the judge knew that Fraser was "out of shape at the time" that he came to Field for training. Unfortunately for the personal trainer, Fraser came out on top of the court battle.
Aside from court complications, romantic troubles also emerged on the George of the Jungle set.
Life seemed to be going great for Fraser. Audiences loved him, his girlfriend Afton Smith loved him. His costar, Leslie Mann, even had a thing for him. Well, more than that, actually. In George of the Jungle, she plays an arrogant rich girl and the unlikely love interest of George, who she slowly comes to desire.
The truth is, she wasn’t actually acting. Mann loved him just as much as her character did, but kept it to herself, only revealing it in an interview years later. But that wasn't the most awkward part.
The on-set dynamic of George of the Jungle must have been awkward, because Brendan’s girlfriend, Afton Smith, also played a small role in the film. In fact, she played one of Leslie Mann’s closest friends. It’s a little weird to star alongside someone who obsesses over you, but it’s even weirder to do that while your significant other is in the same film.
Still, it was Leslie Mann who was about to have her heart broken.
Just after production on George of the Jungle finished, Afton Smith and Fraser got engaged, and then married in 1998. Although the pair were mostly wary of the spotlight, they nonetheless picked the flashy Bel Air Hotel in Los Angeles to say their "I Dos". Yet almost as soon as they tied the knot, their dynamic began to shift.
Soon after becoming Fraser's wife, Afton Smith mostly gave up acting, turning her attention instead to writing. She also took up work as the family's primary caregiver after she and Fraser had three sons together; Griffin, Holden, and Leland. The timing couldn't have been more perfect—for Fraser at least. His career was about to explode.
In the midst of his (supposed) happily-ever-after, Fraser got the role of an absolute lifetime. Director Stephen Stommers was in the middle of casting for the now-iconic film The Mummy, but couldn't seem to find the right actor. Tom Cruise had already turned it down, as did Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, and others.
When they finally got to Fraser, he happily accepted, near-last choice or not. Although he had some action chops, he was used to playing "primitive man" roles, not the slick-talking part of Rick O'Connell he would be taking on. In the end, he nailed it—but it turns out there were other, bigger worries on set.
If the producers of The Mummy did their research, they would have known how awful it can be to film in the desert. The film’s production began rather easily, but it turned into an absolute nightmare. As soon as they went from domestic scenes in Morocco to their location in the Sahara desert, it went downhill fast.
For one, doctors had to concoct a special drink for the team to gulp every two hours, just so that they could survive the abject weather. And it was about to get downright scary.
Worse than that, the horrors of the desert occasionally hospitalized the crew. With any number of poisonous creepy crawlies lurking in every corner, it wasn't unusual for crew members to get airlifted to the hospital after particularly bad stings. Fraser was likely questioning his commitment to the project...and the next shocking event didn't help.
After watching cast and crew members getting felled left, right, and center, Fraser had his own brush with mortality—and his experience was the most terrifying of all. Still famous for doing his own stunts, the star didn’t shy away from danger, and in a scene where his character is hanged, he nearly choked himself. In seconds, it turned into a horror story.
Fraser tried to make the scene look as real as he could, performing cut after cut of the rope hanging him. So when it actually did start choking him for real, the people on set noticed too late. He went unconscious, and his co-star Rachel Weisz remembers a medical team having to resuscitate him. It doesn't end there.
It only gets worse for Fraser. In the wake of the chilling incident, director Stephen Sommers absolved himself of any responsibility, claiming that Brendan was "totally to blame". Sommers claimed that Fraser went too far in trying to make the stunt look real, and tied the noose too tightly. As he put it, "He did it to himself".
But Fraser was about to be too big to worry about what his director thought.
When it came out in 1999, The Mummy became an international sensation and marked the return of action adventure films. Still, the film has a secret. Few people know that the idea for movie started back in the 80s, was at one point going to star Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis as the mummy, and was going to give off more Terminator vibes.
Yeah, I can't see Brendan Fraser in that film. But that wasn't the only surprise the franchise had in store.
In 2001, Fraser came back on board to make The Mummy Returns, this time starring alongside famous wrestler and emerging actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Unfortunately, The Mummy Returns surpassed even The Mummy for its utterly disastrous production. The Rock, even as a total beast of a man, lost at least 10 pounds during production and suffered from heatstroke and food poisoning.
But it was Fraser, once more, who suffered the most.
Fraser was just as determined as ever to do his own stunts, but the consequences were disturbing. While on set again as Rick O'Connell, he not only injured his knees, but also cracked a rib and, worst of all, tore a spinal disk. Even then, it didn't seem to be enough for Fraser to realize he was headed down a dark path.
Looking back on this phase of his career, Fraser admits he was physically falling apart. As he said, by the time he made the third Mummy movie, The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, "I was put together with tape and ice". Indeed, he could barely make it through without a plethora of ice packs, blackly joking that he had to build himself an "exoskeleton" of them to survive the day.
But life catches up with you, and the consequences were brutal.
After the horrific beating that Fraser's body took over the course of his action movie career, he needed serious downtime to recover. And not just downtime—the actor required multiple surgeries over nearly a decade to feel at his full potential again. Only, that's not the most distressing part. Fraser thinks he knows why he put himself through so much trauma back then, and the answers aren't pretty.
In hindsight, Fraser has confessed that he "was trying too hard, in a way that's destructive" to make sure his career worked out. That is, to make sure he remained an action star, and to make sure that people still found him worthy. Even then, he must have known it wasn't sustainable and would lead nowhere good. And that's exactly what happened.
By 2006, Afton Smith and Fraser had three lovely sons, who were growing into toddlers and tykes. Around this time, he and his wife discovered their first-born son Griffin was on the autism spectrum, which, in Fraser's words, means "he needs extra love in the world, and he gets it". Still, love or no, little Griffin was about to have a broken home.
Despite their growing family, Fraser's marriage suddenly tumbled into an irrecoverable abyss. Just a year after their youngest son was born, Fraser and his wife Afton Smith filed for divorce. The pair didn't disclose anything about the failings of their relationship...but the public soon learned more details themselves, and they weren't pretty.
Fraser and his ex may have filed for divorce in 2007, but the case dragged on—and became very acrimonious. In the end, the judge ruled that Fraser pay an extremely high alimony of $50,000 a month, on top of child support payments for their three sons. For a movie star in his peak, this might not have been much, but Fraser's career was now declining too. For him, it was ruinous.
In 2013, Fraser made an extremely vulnerable confession. He begged the courts to reduce his alimony payments, though he didn't ask for a change in his child support payments. Why? He claimed that his salary simply couldn't cover the cost of paying his ex-wife Afton Smith the fees. Smith, however, did more than disagree. She went for the jugular.
Smith, evidently furious that Fraser wanted to reduce his payments, claimed her ex-husband was only pretending to be poor, and further insisted he was hiding money and keeping the details of his contracts from his more recent films purposely vague. In short, she accused him of fraud. After three long years, a new verdict came back. This time, neither party was happy.
In the end, the courts ruled that there was no evidence of wrongdoing of any kind when it came to Fraser's assets. A victory, yes, but a crushing defeat was also on its way. The judge upheld the current alimony payments, meaning Fraser had to keep dipping into his savings for the foreseeable future to keep writing checks for his ex.
You might be asking: Why was his ex so angry at him? Well, we'll get to that. Fraser could have really used a win right about then, but he wasn't going to get one.
The once-lucky star now stared at a future that only seemed to promise heartache. The spotlight shifted further away from him, and mostly un-enviable roles came his way. He eked out some respectable parts, as in Extraordinary Measures with Harrison Ford, but his work was mostly undignified romps like Furry Vengeance.
Still, Hollywood loves a comeback story. Brendan Fraser was finally about to get his.
The past may have looked bittersweet to Brendan, but the best was yet to come. Around 2021, controversial director Darren Aronofsky approached Fraser about starring in his next film, The Whale, which follows a severely obese man, Charlie, and his attempts to connect with his daughter.
Incredibly enough, Aronofsky had been struggling to cast the role of Charlie for nearly a decade, and landed on Fraser for the part after seeing his performance in Journey to the End of the Night. It set off the next chapter of Fraser's life.
Although The Whale and Darren Aronofsky have both received criticism for what many perceive as a fatphobic portrayal of Charlie, Fraser has been consistently praised for his humanizing performance. Indeed, when The Whale went to the prestigious Venice Film Festival, the audience gave the film, and Fraser, a tear-jerking six-minute standing ovation.
After The Whale, now every director wants a piece of Brendan Fraser again. The legendary director of Taxi Driver, Martin Scorsese, cast Fraser in his most recent film, Killers of the Flower Moon, which also stars heavy-hitter Leonardo DiCaprio. A Brenaissance indeed. And that's not the only part of his life Fraser is reinventing.
Just like most things in life, love comes unexpectedly. When Fraser attended the Venice Film Festival, his new girlfriend Jeanne Moore arrived by his side. Exactly how they met remains unknown, but considering that she’s a makeup artist, it’s entirely possible that their relationship may have started professionally.
In 1998, around the time that he made The Mummy, Fraser starred in Gods and Monsters alongside Ian McKellen. He was clearly moving on up in the world of Hollywood, and it showed in his confidence. Fraser even suggested an aesthetic detail about the ending to the director, and he took it on board.
Fraser has a lot of sliding doors moments in his career, but one might beat them all. Around the early 2000s, he was in talks to play none other than Superman in a JJ Abrams-helmed film. In fact, he was so certain he was going to get the role, he acquired his own Superman suit just to look at himself in the mirror and imagine what it would be like.
The film wasn't to be, and never got out of production...but it turned into a very bizarre time in his life.
Strangely enough, there was an immense amount of secrecy surrounding the potential Superman film. Fraser recalls the script being printed on "crimson paper with black ink" and him only being allowed to read bits of the story while sitting in a specific room. It’s almost like the CIA was making the film.
For all the ups and downs of Brendan Fraser's career, there is one "down" that was a complete and total nightmare.
In 2003, sometime in the summer, Brendan attended a gathering in the Beverly Hills Hotel. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which runs the Golden Globes, hosted the event. While on his way out of the elegant party, Fraser encountered the then-president of the HFPA, Philip Berk. In the blink of an eye, the situation went sour.
At first, Berk just reached out to shake Fraser's hand...but he ended up taking much more liberties. Even Berk's side of the story is that he "playfully" pinched Fraser in the backside, which is horrible enough. Fraser, however, insists even more happened: That Berk fully dove in there and moved his hand around. Fraser's response was heartbreaking.
Stunned at what just happened, Fraser remembers feeling "ill. I felt like a little kid. I felt like there was a ball in my throat. I thought I was going to cry". He quickly ran out of the building and back to his home without telling a soul except his wife at the time, even though he passed an officer on the way out. But things couldn't stay that way for long.
Although Fraser briefly considered going completely public with the encounter, his revenge was private at first. Via his reps, he demanded an apology not only from Berk but also from the HFPA as a whole. It worked...a little. Berk did write a letter, but, even in Berk's own words, "My apology admitted no wrongdoing".
Meanwhile, while HFPA claimed they would protect Fraser by never letting Berk into a room with him again, Berk denies this directive ever took place. Meanwhile, it all took a very personal toll on Fraser.
Fraser admitted he became depressed at this period of his life, and began constantly replaying the horrible encounter over and over in his mind. He kept wondering why he felt so destroyed by what everyone else seemed to think was a minor incident. As he put it, "I was blaming myself and I was miserable". It was about to get much worse.
In the wake of that summer, Fraser came to a disturbing conclusion. Following his altercation with Berk, his phone didn't seem to ring anymore. He couldn't seem to book any good jobs, and the Golden Globes now only rarely invited him to the ceremony and other events. He began, in short, to suspect the HFPA had blacklisted him.
It took many long years for Fraser to claw his way back up to the top. And when he did, he got one final revenge.
With The Whale earning major award buzz and accolades, it seemed natural for the HFPA to once more invite Brendan Fraser to their Golden Globes ceremony all those years later. Fraser's response was cutting and perfect. Never forgetting how Philip Berk and the HFPA as a whole treated him, Fraser refused.
He also had a few words to say about the situation: "My mother didn’t raise a hypocrite, you can call me a lot of things, but not that". He stayed true to his word, and was a no-show. But there was more trouble for Fraser on the horizon.
In 2016, Fraser was still clinging to his career, and was doing promotion for his upcoming appearance in the show The Affair. That's when tragedy struck. Just before he was set to smile for press junkets, his mother passed from cancer. Devastated, he nonetheless knew he had to grind to stay relevant, and went to do an interview with AOL's BUILD YouTube Channel. It was a huge mistake.
Fraser's interview with the BUILD series quickly became a meme—and not in the good way. The man on the screen was no longer the bright-eyed, dashing optimist of The Mummy, but a person grieving for his mother and unsure how he was ever going to feel OK again. Throughout the video, Fraser appears beyond glum, on the brink of tears even, and doesn't raise his voice above a quiet rasp.
As it happens, Brendan Fraser was filming the third Mummy movie, The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, right when his marriage crumbled. And, as it also happened, he had a new, beautiful co-star in Maria Bello, who replaced Rachel Weisz in the "woman adventurer" role. It may have been the worst thing to ever happen to Fraser.
On set, the two reportedly would vanish together for hours, and always flirt with one another while filming. There are still whispers today that they struck up an affair, kickstarting his split from Afton Smith. Either way, his divorce got messy.
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