What we’ve done here is loosely assembled, in chronological order, all the facts and snippets we half-remember from articles and interviews with D. Maybe one day we’ll be good and reference it properly.
Date of birth: 3 April 1959
Height: 5' 10"
Lives in: NYC currently, sometimes LA
From: Saratoga Springs, NY
Family: Parents George and Laura (deceased); siblings Tom, Barbara and Nancy
Alma mater: Yale
Pets: A succession of Wheaten terriers named Emma, Mabel and Maud
Charity work: Is a champion of the Alzheimer’s Association and a supporter of various LGBT causes, AIDS organisations, the National Mental Health Association and Habitat for Humanity
1995, 1998, 1999 and 2004
Screen Actors’ Guild awards:
American Comedy awards:
1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000
Television Critics Association awards:
1997 and 1998
Viewers for Quality TV awards:
1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000
TV Guide awards:
Nominated 1999 and 2001
Nominated 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001
Nominated 2000, 2003, 2004
David was born in Saratoga Springs, New York, on 3 April 1959. He’s the youngest child of George and Laura Pierce, and has three older siblings – Tom, Barbara and Nancy. George was an insurance broker, and a part-time actor, though he’d stopped by the time David was born.
David was interested in acting from a young age, sometimes staging elaborate death scenes by pretending to fall down the stairs (as you do). However, his first love was music – specifically the piano. He also played the organ at his local church, Bethesda Episcopal Church. In high school, he began to act for fun, and won the Yaddo medal for best drama student when he graduated in 1977.
Embarking on an acting career:
David went to Yale to study classical piano, but soon realised he wasn’t prepared to put in the endless hours of practice required of concert pianists, and switched his major to English and theatre arts. He appeared in various Yale productions and also worked at the Williamstown festival, along with Michael Cerveris (his fellow 2007 Tony nominee). Upon his graduation in 1981, he planned to go to drama school in the UK, but was advised by the actor Edward Herrmann to instead go to New York and get work to find out if acting was really something he wanted to do.
This he did, and between menial jobs like selling ties in Bloomingdales, he soon found work in a Broadway show – Christopher Durang’s play Beyond Therapy (1982), starring John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest. Unfortunately, the show closed within a few weeks after a scathing review. David would later say that this experience was as good training for an actor as you can get – all the highs and lows of the craft packed into a two-week period.
For the next few years, he did extensive work in regional theatre – in the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and the New York Shakespeare Festival. It was around this time he met another young actor, Brian Hargrove, who would become his longterm partner.
From 1988 David began to appear in bit parts in movies, most notably in Crossing Delancey. He would also tour the Soviet Union and Japan with The Cherry Orchard in 1989 before returning to Broadway to star as gay paediatrician Peter Patrone in Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles.
Frasier and all that:
In the early 1990s they moved to Los Angeles – David to look for acting work, Brian to write for television with his writing partner Jack Kenny. (The two would have collaborations of sorts when David appeared in a Caroline in the City episode penned by Brian and Jack and again when David co-starred in an episode of Titus, the bleak and brilliant Fox sitcom co-created by Brian.)
In 1991, Jodie Foster cast him in her directorial debut, Little Man Tate, having remembered him from a play in Yale, where she’d also been a student. Soon after, he joined the Screen Actors’ Guild, and since there was already a David Pierce on the books (he was in The Terminator, apparently), David would be henceforth credited as David Hyde Pierce. (Hyde being his middle name and not part of a double-barrelled surname, as lots of journalists maddeningly think.)
He made his first foray into television with The Powers That Be, a Norman Lear-produced, David Crane/Marta Kauffman-created sitcom about a senator and his dysfunctional family. David played Theodore Van Horne, an unhappily married, suicidal congressman who lusted after the maid. Though the show was cancelled after twenty episodes after being bounced around to different timeslots, his performance – particularly his ability for finding physical comedy in botched suicide attempts – would serve him well. He caught the eye of Sheila Guthrie, a casting director for a new Cheers spin-off, who noted that he bore a striking resemblance to Kelsey Grammer.
Though Frasier creators David Angell, Peter Casey and David Lee hadn’t planned on giving Frasier a brother (indeed, he’d asserted on Cheers that he was an only child), they too were struck by the resemblance and, having met with David, they wrote the part of Niles and offered it to him. David later admitted he wasn’t immediately impressed; he couldn’t understand why they had written Niles to resemble Frasier so closely “which just shows you how smart I am.”
Frasier, as we all know, was an immediate commercial and critical success. Audiences loved Niles’s weird mix of uptightness and vulnerability, and the role brought him a bunch of awards. He would be nominated for a record eleven Emmys for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy, winning four times (1995, 1998, 1999 and 2004). He also won two Screen Actors’ Guild awards (1996 and 1997) and hauled in a load of other awards and nominations which you can read about above.
He was suddenly a household face, and very, very wealthy – purportedly by the end of Frasier’s run he was bringing in a cool $1m per episode. He began to win roles in high-profile movies – Mike Nichols’ Wolf, Oliver Stone’s Nixon and Steven Soderbergh’s Full Frontal to name a few. He also developed an extensive voiceover career, lending his voice to movies like A Bug’s Life, Treasure Planet and Hellboy, and a memorable turn as Sideshow Cecil in The Simpsons.
On a personal level, there was change too. He lost both his parents during the early nineties – his father to Alzheimer’s disease, which has led David to be very active in the campaign to find a cure.
Back to Broadway - and beyond:
When Frasier ended in 2004, David expressed a wish to get back to theatre – specifically musicals, which he viewed as a new challenge. Throughout the last years of Frasier he’d been preparing for this, taking voice and dance lessons and enjoying a brief stint in The Boys From Syracuse in the autumn of 1999. Being a Monty Python fanatic, when he read that a musical of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was being developed, he called up director Mike Nichols and begged for a part. He got multiple parts, actually – the cowardly Sir Robin, the fire-and-brimstone Brother Maynard and various others. With the likes of Tim Curry, Hank Azaria and Sara Ramirez in the cast, Spamalot was a hit, and David stayed with the project for over a year.
Then came Curtains, a musical comedy whodunit that was the last collaboration between legendary musicals duo John Kander and Fred Ebb. Scott Ellis, who directed several Frasier episodes, was to direct and he approached David when Frasier ended to see if he’d be interested playing the lead. Having committed to Spamalot, David turned him down, but thankfully the project was delayed and David came on board when he finished Spamalot in the spring of 2006. Curtains transferred to Broadway in February 2007.
In May 2007, David made reference to his partner in an Associated Press interview. The website AfterElton.com immediately latched onto the significance of this and contacted David’s publicist who confirmed that yes, this was David coming out. The article was noteworthy not because his sexual orientation was a secret, but because it was the first time he actually said “I’m gay” in print.
David won the Tony award for Best Lead Actor in a Musical in June 2007, beating off tough opposition including Raul Esparza, who had been touted to win for his performance in Company. In an emotional and funny acceptance speech David talked of coming full circle, since it had been twenty-five years since he first appeared on Broadway, in Beyond Therapy.
David will continue to appear in Curtains until it closes on 29 June. He’s indicated that he’d like to do another stage project after that – Shakespeare, Chekhov, or a new play. There are rumours floating around that he will play the Riddler in a future movie in Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise. If that happens we’ll expire from sheer excitement, but we’ll have to wait and see.