Brendan Fraser was a true Hollywood icon, the action star that guaranteed success. Then, from one second to the next, he disappeared, only to return a decade later with an incredible story...
The Ultimate Comeback
"Thank you. Thank you. So this is what the multiverse looks like. Oh my goodness," Brendon Fraser exclaimed as he accepted the Academy Award for Best Actor in March 2023.
As The Whale actor wept over the emotions of the moment, there was not a dry eye in the house. Fraser had made one of the most triumphant returns in Hollywood history. After over a decade away from the spotlight, he had beaten the odds and made his way back to the top.
Where Had He Been?
But beyond the photographs and smiles, it was clear Brendan's heart still held some long-lasting darkness. There was a grave reason he had taken such a long hiatus from Hollywood, the type of issues that stay with a person for many years, always a part of their being.
Those who had followed Fraser's story closely were familiar with the painful reasons he had been forced to leave Hollywood all those years back. But for most people watching, it was all a great mystery. While they understood the actor had left the spotlight, most were in the dark about where he had been during this time...
The Very Beginning
To understand Brendan's incredible life story, filled with numerous highs and lows, it's essential to look back at where it all began. Fraser was born on December 3, 1968, in Indianapolis, Indiana, United States. Due to his father's career, he was forced to move frequently around the country.
While on a family vacation in London at the age of 12, Brendan attended a performance of Oliver in the West End. He loved every moment of the show, and this ignited his passion for acting. From there, he returned to the US, making a commitment to make it one day in Hollywood.
After graduating college, Fraser secured a handful of supporting character roles, starting with Dogfight in 1991. Although he was playing the minor part of Sailor 1, it was this film that earned him a Screen Actors Guild membership. It was also where he began his practice of doing his own physical stunts on set.
"I got my Screen Actors Guild card and an extra $50 bucks for the stunt adjustment 'cause they threw me into a pinball machine," he recalled in a later interview. "I think I bruised a rib," Fraser detailed. Despite seriously injuring himself, Brendan was not scared off from the craft.
Just one year after the release of Dogfight, Fraser appeared alongside some of Hollywood's biggest future stars in an American drama titled School Ties. Brendan played the part of David Greene, a Jewish boy attending a prep school in the 50s forced to keep his religious identity a secret from his peers.
Alongside Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Chris O'Donnell, the four men were presented to the world as the next big stars in Hollywood. Although the film itself did not find critical success, it was indeed the springboard for these four actors who went on to become household names.
George of the Jungle
Fraser's first big role, which boosted him into the spotlight and made his name known, was George of the Jungle. Released in 1997 and directed by Sam Weisman, Brandon starred as George - a plane crash survivor who was then raised in the jungle by an elderly gorilla.
After meeting Ursula (Leslie Mann), the two move away from Africa to San Francisco to start a new life together. Again, the movie did not receive high critical acclaim, but it showed Fraser's ability to bring a comedic spin to more action-style roles. He caught the eye of many Hollywood directors.
String of Successes
From that point onwards, Brendan Fraser was unstoppable as numerous movie offers came his way. His name was known throughout Hollywood, and actors and directors were desperate to work with him. In 1998, he starred in Gods and Monsters and, in 1999, in Blast from the Past.
One thing that set him apart from his fellow actors was his willingness to commit to the physical components of a part. Although this was a triumph at the time and impressed all those working in Hollywood, he would come to regret it years down the line.
Mirroring the success in his professional career, Brendan's personal life was also thriving. After meeting actress Afton Smith at Winona Ryder's barbeque party on July 4, 1993, the two began their passionate, romantic relationship. Five years later, in September 1998, they tied the knot.
The wedding ceremony took place at the Bel Air Hotel in Los Angeles, California, in front of their closest friends and family. In September 2002, the couple gave birth to the first child Griffin Arthur Fraser, followed by Holden Fletcher in August 2004 and Leland Francis in May 2006.
In 1999, Brendan Fraser's career peaked when he landed the lead role of Rick O'Connell in The Mummy. Based on an old horror film, this movie tells the story of an American who accidentally awakens a mummy in the ancient city of Humunaptra. As havoc ensues, O'Connell is forced to fight off the terrifying creature.
The franchise was as big as it could get, and Fraser was considered everything an action hero should be. Like many of Fraser's movies, it received mixed critical reviews but high commercial success, bringing in over $416 million at the global box office. It went on to have two more sequels.
Enter The Rock
A major player in Brandan Fraser's story was Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. The Rock may now be known as one of the greatest action stars of all time, but once upon a time, he was a wrestling champion in the WWF. Wanting to get into the world of acting, Brendon took him under his wing.
In 2001, he was cast alongside Fraser in The Mummy Returns, playing the role of The Scorpion King. It's believed that Brendan felt his days in Hollywood were limited and therefore mentored The Rock to continue on with his beloved franchise. Soon, however, he would come to regret this.
Not before long, The Rock had replaced Brendan Fraser as the ultimate action hero. Coming from the world of wrestling, he had the capacity to meet the physical demands of the franchise without damaging his body in the process. Soon, he had his own spin-off from Brendon's movie series.
The world had fallen in love with The Rock while Brendon was busy focusing on his personal life and trying to keep up with the level of commitment he had always given to his acting roles. To his dismay, he could not do so, and he felt himself struggling to keep up with the competition.
Almost as if from one second to the next, Brendan Fraser soon began to pull away from the spotlight. Considering he was at the top of his career, it was a great mystery why he had chosen to do this. Rumors began to circulate over what had triggered this change, but nothing would be confirmed until years later.
He started to appear in fewer movies, only taking on very small parts in the ones he did take on. He rarely sat down for interviews and seemed committed to removing himself from the public eye. Whenever he was spotted, he seemed depressed and withdrawn.
Although he took on less-public roles and avoided interactions with the public, paparazzi photographers still followed Fraser around, and he lived his regular life with his family. They snapped pictures of him on vacation with his family and walking the streets of Los Angeles.
Upon seeing these images, the public immediately began to throw negative comments his way. He had put on a significant amount of weight and had started to lose his hair. Quite frankly, he no longer looked like what they deemed to be a movie star, and Hollywood rejected him for this reason.
As part of the promotional circuit for the new season of The Affair, in which Fraser had a guest appearance, Brendan sat down in 2016 with AOL. The interview was an incredibly uncomfortable, saddening video as audiences couldn't help but pick up on his sad, whispered tone.
It had been a long time since he had sat for an interview, and there were numerous theories about what had been behind his mood. There were mentions of his 2007 divorce and his replacement by the Rock in The Mummy franchise. Although these were all credible explanations, it wouldn't be until two years later that we would get answers…
Unraveling the Truth
In February 2018, it was time for Brendan Fraser to speak his truth, noting the elephant in the room that was his disappearance. Sitting down with GQ magazine, he was ready to address it all. Catching the world up from the very beginning, he looked back at the earlier, happier days of his career.
"I look at myself then, and I just see a walking steak," he said about the numerous topless roles he took on at the start. He was a Hollywood heartthrob and stud, and that was something he embraced happily at the time. He was as eager as they come, and everyone loved him for it.
Pushed Too Far
Looking back on his first few years in Hollywood, Fraser explained he was willing to do whatever he needed to do for a role, even if that meant pushing his body to the absolute limits. "I believe I probably was trying too hard in a way that's destructive," he explained to GQ.
Going on to film two more sequels to The Mummy, he continued to stretch himself thin. "By the time I did the third Mummy picture in China [in 2008], I was put together with tape and ice—I was building an exoskeleton for myself daily." At his core, he was a people pleaser, fearing the consequence of saying no.
As part of The Mummy's press circuit, Brendan revealed to David Letterman just how close to death he had come on set. "I almost gave my life at one point. I was on the platform I the rope, so I took a few deep breaths and realized I was on the balls of my feet."
"The rope was going up, and then the world kinda died down," he explained. "Next thing I know, my elbow is in my ear, and there's all these medics going, 'Hello, Brendan, wake up.' My doctor told me I was technically dead for 10-12 seconds."
Ultimately, the injuries accumulated, and Brendan was forced to undergo numerous life-threatening surgeries. "I needed a laminectomy. And the lumbar didn't take, so they had to do it again a year later," he told GQ. He also went under for a partial knee replacement.
He underwent surgery on his back, where numerous spinal pads were bolted together. Fraser had even needed his vocal cords fixed up. Finally, there was an explanation for where he had been all this time - for seven years; he had been in and out of the hospital in an attempt to get his body back to good health.
In retrospect, Fraser explained his younger self had felt compelled to do as he was told. "This is gonna really probably be a little saccharine for you," Fraser told GQ. "But I felt like the horse from Animal Farm, whose job it was to work and work and work. Orwell wrote a character who was, I think, the proletariat."
"He worked for the good of the whole, he didn't ask questions, and 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 s*** that I've built that got knocked down and do it again for the good of everyone. Whether it hurts you or not."
As for the infamous AOL appearance, which had sparked much concern about the actor's well-being, Fraser revealed he had been going through a lot in his personal life, particularly in the days leading up to the interview. "I buried my mom. I think I was in mourning and didn't know what that meant," he said.
Overall, he revealed it had been a bad decade - "I changed houses; I went through a divorce. Some kids were born. I mean, they were born, but they're growing up. I was going through things that mold and shape you in ways that you're not ready for until you go through them."
There Was More...
No one had imagined that the actor had been through so many struggles and was in such a terrible mental and physical headspace. But while the world believed they had all the answers they needed, Fraser was still holding on to one more secret - one he believed to have been his biggest trigger for disappearing.
As had been previously speculated, Fraser revealed that Phillip Burke, the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press, had been inappropriate with him. As he alleged, the incident had taken place in 2003 at the Beverly Hils Hotel at a luncheon hosted by the HFPA while he went to shake Burke's hand.
For years, he said, he had not had "the courage to speak up for risk of humiliation, or damage to [his] career." But now, inspired by the 'Me Too' movement, he felt his time had come to tell the truth. "I felt ill. I felt like there was a ball in my throat. I thought I was going to cry," he said of the incident.
Shortly after, Fraser's representatives requested an apology from the HFPA, but Berk later revealed he had done nothing wrong. When the organization did not take his complaint seriously, Brendan admitted he "became depressed." He started to believe he had done something to deserve it. "I was blaming myself, and I was miserable."
"Made Me Retreat"
As far as Brendan saw his spotlight withdrawal process, this incident had been the final trigger. "This experience made me retreat. It made me feel reclusive," he explained to GQ. "I just felt I couldn't be a part of it. I didn't feel that I belonged."
Continuing his GQ confession, Brendan explained the incident messed with his sense of "who I was and what I was doing. Work withered on the vine for me. In my mind, at least, something had been taken away from me." While admitting he was still terrified, he felt he needed to finally speak up.
Pointing the Finger
While he can never know for sure, he wondered if the incident had been the cause for his reduced movie offers. "The phone does stop ringing in your career, and you start asking yourself why. There's many reasons, but was this one of them? I think it was," he speculated.
"I don't know if this curried disfavor with the group, with the HFPA. But the silence was deafening," he said, noting that he was rarely invited back to the Golden Globes. According to Berk, the HFPA did not retaliate against Fraser for his claim, stating that "his career declined through no fault of ours."
The response to this GQ article was beyond anything that Brendon dreamed of. The internet was alive with comments of praise for the actor, who had shown such strength and bravery by coming forward with his traumatic experience. "I just spoke my truth," Fraser told E! News shortly after.
"A lot can happen, and it's important to unburden yourself from the things you just don't need. So I can go forward now, I feel good that I was inspired by others with courage, and I was able to speak what I needed to say. It's a new time, it's a new era, and I think some change that's good is gonna come about. Im optimistic."
Having let his greatest demons out of the closet, Brendon was ready to return to work. At the same time, director Darren Aronofsky was searching for his next leading man and thought Fraser might be the perfect fit. Months later, the two began working on the drama, The Whale.
The movie tells the story of a 600-pound man self-harming by overeating. His obesity had left him wheelchair-bound as he desperately tried to reconnect with his 17-year-old daughter. Brendon donned a prosthetic suit for the performance, triggering some backlash for this casting decision.
Premiering The Whale at the Venice Film Festival in September 2022, Brendan was brought to tears when the audience responded with a six-minute standing ovation. As they stood and applauded Fraser's outstanding acting performance, he stood and took in the moment's emotions.
Fraser could be seen hugging Aranofsky, evidently grateful for the opportunity the director had given him at a point when he needed a lifeline. Finally, he gave in to the crowds and took his bow. No matter what was being said about the film itself, one thing was crystal clear - Brendon Fraser was back.
The Rock Speaks Out
Over twenty years since he first joined Brendan Fraser's Mummy franchise, Dwayne Johnson attended the red carpet premiere of his 2022 movie Black Adam. "Brendon welcomed me in when he didn't have to," he told Access Hollywood. "And he did, and I never forget it, so I'm so happy for his success now."
"Man, this makes me so happy to see this beautiful ovation for Brendan," he later tweeted. "He supported me coming into his Mummy Returns franchise for my first-ever role, which kicked off my Hollywood career—rooting for all your success, brother, and congrats to my bud Darren Aronofsky.
It didn't take long for the awards buzz to begin. Brendan was nominated for Best Actor at all of the major Hollywood Award ceremonies. Despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, he announced he would not be attending due to his complicated history with the organization.
To everyone's delight, he was nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards. After picking up the winning trophy, he posed for photos alongside his two children and loving girlfriend, proudly lifting up the Oscar to the crowd. The full-circle moment was the happy ending all the fans wished for.
With his Best Actor Academy Award under his belt, we can't help but wonder what is next for Mr. Brendan Fraser. His triumphant return to the top of Hollywood proves to the world his resilience and strength. Despite all the knocks he experienced, he pulled himself back together and never gave up.
Considering the staggering praise he received for his performance in the Whale, the offers are presumably flooding in at the pre-hiatus levels. According to his IMDb page, Fraser has four star-studded upcoming projects. Stay tuned because Brandon Fraser is just getting (re) started.