Seriously, What Happened to Brendan Fraser?

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Videos by Rare

Brendan Fraser is back in the news with the premiere of The Whale: Darren Aronofsky’s latest drama which stars Fraser as a 600-pound man. Though the movie is getting mixed reviews, his tortured performance is earning praise. It’s led many fans to question where the heck this ’90s idol has been hiding. (The answer involves a messy divorce… and so much more.)

We’ve missed you, Brendan Fraser!

The Golden Age of Brendan Fraser

For pretty much all of the 1990s, Brendan Fraser’s face was inescapable: his strong jawline, wide eyes, and gloriously floppy head of hair… he was the definition of a movie star. From the serious School Ties to sillier fare, like George of the Jungle, to the ever-bankable action of The Mummy, Fraser was the man for the job. So why, then, did the jobs start drying up?

Fraser’s first leading role came in 1992 with Encino Man. The hunky 24-year-old played a frozen — and thawed — caveman, thrust into modern society. And though the film performed modestly at the box office, the cult classic put Fraser on the map. It also came define the actor’s particular brand of on-screen naiveté, as he would go on to play similar roles in George of the Jungle (1997) and Blast from the Past (1999).

“The naïf cum babe in the woods cum new guy in town cum man-boy cum…visitor-in-an-unusual-environment conceit was, uh… was very, very good to me,” 

Brendan Fraser in GQ

But Fraser also displayed an early range. The same year that Encino Man premiered, he played the lead in School Ties, a ’50s-era prep school drama that pitted Fraser against the likes of rising stars like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. And the rest of Fraseer’s decade unfolded at that fast pace of success. Among the hits: Airheads, Mrs. Winterbourne, George of the Jungle, Gods and Monsters, Blast from the Past, Crash, and of course, the wildly popular Mummy trilogy which ended in 2008.

And though Fraser did appear in various movies over the past 20 years, they were, really, bit roles compared to his initial oeuvre.

So What Happened?

A Messy Divorce

The Whale star Brendan Fraser met actress Afton Smith in 1993 at a barbecue at Winona Ryder’s house. They married four years later, on September 27, 1998, and had three sons: Griffin Arthur Fraser (born 2002), Holden Fletcher Fraser (born 2004), and Leland Francis Fraser (born 2006). 

A year after the birth of their third son, the couple sold Beverly Hills home for $3 million and, shortly after, it announced they were getting a divorce. And Smith took Fraser to the cleaners.

In addition to $25,000 per month for child support, Fraser was ordered by the court to pay Smith a monthly alimony sum of $50,000 for 10 years (or until Smith remarried — which did not happen.)  

In 2013, Fraser petitioned the courts to reduce his alimony and child support payments, saying he was unable to meet the total obligation. In return, Smith accused her ex of hiding financial assets and it appears the payments were not reduced.

Online interest in the story led to the meme-ification of Fraser with fans roasting both parties over the ridiculous sum. Many commenters, though, came to support Fraser. (Scroll down to watch the actor react to his online support.) By the time Fraser finally completed his decade of alimony in 2019, his fortune was greatly reduced.

via Reddit

A Series of Brutal Injuries

The divorce settlement was not all that took Brendan Fraser out during the mid-aughts. He performed his own stunts throughout his career, which became especially intense during the Mummy years. “By the time I did the third Mummy picture in China, I was put together with tape and ice,” he told Zac Baron in an illuminating 2018 GQ profile: “What Ever Happened to Brendan Fraser?”

Various injuries eventually required multiple surgeries. Fraser needed a laminectomy, and then a second one when the first one didn’t take. He also had a partial knee replacement and further work done on his back after he injuring it removing a fallen tree. Even his vocal cords needed fixing after years spent performing. In all, he was in and out of the hospital for about seven years.

Thinking back on his early pictures — in his physical prime — Fraser told Baron, “I look at myself then and I just see a walking steak.” He also added that the trajectory of his career made him feel like the horse in Animal Farm, who worked and worked and worked. Fraser said:

“Orwell wrote a character who was, I think, the proletariat. He worked for the good of the whole, he didn’t ask questions, he didn’t make trouble until it killed him… I don’t know if I’ve been sent to the glue factory, but I’ve felt like I’ve had to rebuild shit that I’ve built that got knocked down and do it again for the good of everyone. Whether it hurts you or not.”

Brendan Fraser in GQ

A Sexual Assault

Brendan Fraser’s films took a toll on him that was both physical and emotional. And the GQ profile, published in early 2018, marked his first public reckoning with that trauma. Appearing at the start of the MeToo movement, the piece also made headlines for another, darker reason.

In the summer of 2003, Fraser was at a luncheon for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Then, on his way out, Fraser alleges that Philip Berk, former HFPA president, purposefully groped him. “His left hand reaches around, grabs my ass cheek, and one of his fingers touches me in the taint. And he starts moving it around.” Fraser told Baron. The actor says that in the moment he was gripped with fear. And he still feels that way. “Am I still frightened? Absolutely. Do I feel like I need to say something? Absolutely.”

Berk, for his part, denies the molestation. Describing the incident in his memoir and to The New York Times, he said that he jokingly pinched Fraser’s ass. But obviously, to Fraser, none of it felt like a joke.

Though Fraser considered going public with the story at the time, he resisted, not wanting it to affect the narrative of his stardom. He did, however, make it well known within the HFPA, his representatives going back and forth with the association. Berk issued a formal apology and, Fraser says, Berk was not allowed to be in the same room as him again. Still, Fraser fell into a funk. “I became depressed,” he said. “I was blaming myself and I was miserable—because I was saying, ‘This is nothing; this guy reached around and he copped a feel.’” 

The Brenaissance: Fraser Making a Comeback

The enlightening GQ profile was just the beginning for a new age of Brendan Fraser. After reestablishing himself with a stable slew of serious TV roles — the History Channel miniseries Texas Rising (2015), the Showtime drama The Affair (2016–2017), the FX anthology Trust (2018), the Epix series Condor (2018) — Fraser is coming back to the big screen.

In addition to The Whale, Fraser is also set to appear alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro in the highly anticipated new Martin Scorsese movie The Killers of the Flower Moon.

‘The Whale’

The Whale follows the story of Charlie, a morbidly obese recluse struggling to connect with his teenage daughter. Directed by Darren Aronofsky and produced by A24, the buzzy film has been attracting attention for months — especially after photos leaked of Fraser in a fat suit.

Although The Whale received a six-minute standing ovation at its Venice premiere, more recent showings have divided critics with many slamming the flick as fatphobic. Even still, Fraser’s sad and quiet portrayal has earned special praise.

See for yourself; The Whale hit theaters earlier this month.

READ MORE: Meet Brendan Fraser’s Girlfriend Jeanne Moore

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article first appeared on July 29, 2022.

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