A different man than in his days as Sam Malone

The Baltimore Sun

PASADENA, Calif. -- An actor doesn't have to live the roles he plays. But it helps. A case in point is Ted Danson who portrays a psychotherapist in ABC's Help Me Help You.

His character, Dr. Bill Hoffman, not only has to cope with the neuroses of his colorful patients, he has to confront his own mid-life crisis.

Danson, star of such hit shows as Cheers and Becker, admits to having his own hang-ups. "Living with four teenagers who are now four young adults and being married to my wife - you're constantly in a crisis of self-examination," he says.

Danson still seeks therapy now and then. "If you find the right person who's bright - therapy, if done well, can be so nurturing. If done poorly it can be damaging or a waste of time. But there are some wonderful people out there who do indeed have some wisdom to impart. I think it's there to be made use of. I think it can be a crutch, but if used well and wisely, I think it's brilliant," says the star of the movies Something About Amelia, Our Fathers and Three Men and a Baby.

Married to his third wife, actress Mary Steenbergen, Danson finds himself the patriarch of a blended family: her two and his two. Career objectives no longer dominate his thinking.

"It's about trying to be around your wife and kids and keep your life going and have your interests, but not be disconnected from your family," says Danson, who is seated in a quiet vestibule of a hotel here.

"That's a lot of work. I don't need another goal. Living with the results of past goals is fine with me," he says.

Danson says his aspirations have changed. "I think in [their] ambitious 30s and 40s, men have gotten carte blanche to go out and be career people. But then there's that huge regret when you feel disconnected from your children, or your children don't want to hang out with you, or you feel you have nothing of interest to show for your life. There's a penalty for that, too."

Balancing that shaky scale between career and home is still harder on women, he thinks.

"My wife is a very successful actor, Academy Award winner - by everybody's definition 'successful.' She has great kids. She's a great stepmother. She does socially conscious things. She does have it all, and there's probably not a moment that she doesn't feel guilt and lacking in one of those areas, whether it's being a daughter to her mother who's in her 80s or her aunt who is in her 90s. Whether it's being a good sister, a good wife, good mother. She's always juggling guilt. 'Should I be over there?'"

The tall, lanky Danson, who's dressed in blue jeans and a blue denim shirt, has made some courageous decisions in his life: deciding to end his 16-year marriage to his second wife, choosing early on to play an incestuous father in Something About Amelia, pushing through paralyzing panic to deliver a theater monologue, delivering an off-color sketch in black face that later backfired.

But none of that counts, he says. "The whole family thing is gutsy. Every moment you're with your wife and children and you admit you're wrong, that's gutsy. Every time you have to face who you are - and it's not such a cheery proposition - that's gutsy. Self-examination is gutsy," he says.

But it's a very different Danson today from the guy who once played a box of lemon chiffon pie in a commercial, poured drinks on Cheers and romanced Whoopi Goldberg.

"Both my parents have passed away," he says. "My mother died in January. It's a very interesting thing to be the adult, not living under the umbrella of your parents or their gravitational pull or anything. It's very interesting. You kind of stop and go, 'Oh, the buck stops here. What is a 58-year-old man supposed to be doing?' I love to go to work. I want to work the rest of my life, but my ambition is different," he says.

"If I were in my present mental state and younger, maybe I would've picked something else to do, 'cause I'm sure it fulfilled a need for me as well. But then there's the corny side of me. I think that acting can be, when done well, can be a noble profession. Because what you're doing is trying to reflect the human condition so we can all see ourselves in some truthful way, whether it's finding the truth looking at it in a funny way or straight on in a hard way. Your job is to reflect humanity, and that's a good thing."

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