How Brendan Fraser lost his fortune

Whatever happened to actor Brendan Fraser? In June 2017, Fox News claimed the star's career had "taken a nosedive," noting that he hadn't "appeared on the big screen" in four long years. The versatile actor — who Tribeca Film called "the movie star that Hollywood forgot" in 2014 — made a name for himself in 1992 by starring in one meaty role and one meathead role: He played a clean-cut jock in the drama School Ties, and a shaggy caveman in the dippy Pauly Shore comedy Encino Man. (He told Entertainment Weekly that the latter role was part of "his ”himbo' phase.") Fraser became something of a household name after these high-profile projects, later appearing in middling Hollywood fare like The Mummy and George of the Jungle, and occasionally starring in loftier offerings like the twee 1998 drama Gods and Monsters alongside Sir Ian McKellen.

More recently, Fraser's kept a decidedly lower profile, with a series of physical ailments, lawsuits, and uncomfortable scandals reportedly playing a role in his retreat from the spotlight. As he told GQ in 2018: "I was going through things that mold and shape you in ways that you're not ready for until you go through them." Let's navigate the perfect storm that culminated in Fraser's unfortunate reversal of fortune.

His alimony obligations

Back when the getting was good for Brendan Fraser, Entertainment Weekly hailed him as "one of Hollywood's most bankable stars," thanks in part to blockbusters like The Mummy, which reportedly raked in $68 million on its opening weekend in May 1999. Radar Online reported that Fraser's net worth was $45 million during a particularly bright spot in his career, but signs that his fortunes were on the wane surfaced in 2013: According to TMZ, Fraser filed legal documents in Connecticut in March of that year, hoping to decrease his alimony obligations — reportedly $50,000 a month — to ex-wife Afton Smith (pictured, right).

As the Daily Mail reports, Fraser and Smith first met in 1993 at what was presumably an unusually glitzy barbecue "thrown" by actress Winona Ryder. The couple subsequently married in 1998, had three kids (Griffin, Holden, and Leland), and divorced in February 2009. According to the Associated Press (via Fox News), Fraser's publicist Ina Treciokas first announced the couple were divorcing in 2007, via a boilerplate statement that assured everybody the former couple would "continue to maintain a close and caring friendship." Subsequent developments suggest that this was a party line.

​He has a lot of overhead

In March 2013, TMZ "broke the story" regarding Brendan Fraser's financial woes, writing that the Gods and Monsters star was "in the red each month to the tune of $87,320.01." As Fraser fought bitterly over alimony payments with ex-wife Afton Smith, the tabloid crunched the numbers down to the cent, reporting that Fraser brought in roughly $205,704.04 a month, while obligated to pay approximately $112,803.25 in "professional expenses." That left the actor with $92,900.79 a month — a sum that, if accurate, probably didn't provoke a whole lot of sympathy among the powers that be.

According to financial records filed by Fraser, the actor received an additional "$25,800.28 from interest" (and other vague sources) each month, but all that dough was reportedly being devoured by Fraser's voluminous list of monthly expenses. On top of child support ($25,000), mortgages (over $5,000), property tax (over $6,000), and income tax ($34,132.52), the actor was reportedly paying $5,200 in "gardening" expenses. That's a whole lot of lobelias.

Most curious insight gleaned from TMZ's story: Fraser listed $7.77 in "pet care" among his monthly expenses, which suggests he was either the proud owner of a particularly low-maintenance hamster, or just wanted to see whether anyone but Smith was paying attention.

​His health issues reportedly played a part

In February 2013, Radar Online reported that Brendan Fraser blamed his career slump, at least in part, on a handful of "medical issues" that stunted his work. "I believe I probably was trying too hard," he subsequently told GQ in 2018, "in a way that's destructive." Aside from suffering from what GQ described as "diminishing returns" at the box office, Fraser's films had taken a toll on the actor's physical well-being, too.

"By the time I did the third Mummy picture in China [in 2008], I was put together with tape and ice," Fraser quipped, perhaps unconsciously comparing his plight to the titular character of that film. He also needed to undergo "a laminectomy," and it didn't go very well at all. "The lumbar didn't take," he explained, "so they had to do it again a year later."

When all is said and done, Fraser claims he spent about seven years holed up inside one hospital or another. During that dismal period, GQ reports he had "his vocal cords repaired," endured a "partial knee replacement," and underwent another procedure to address his "compressed spinal pads." The word picture we're trying to paint here: Fraser was in pretty bad shape, not to mention, none of that sounds cheap. 

That alleged 'freak accident'

So what exactly happened to Brendan Fraser's back, anyway? If Radar Online can be believed — which, if we're being honest, is a big "if" on the best of days — he fell victim to a "freak accident" while dealing with a tree that had fallen on his Connecticut property during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Following this alleged injury, the Looney Tunes: Back in Action star reportedly spent several months laid out in a clinic in Beverly Hills. Radar Online claimed doctors told Fraser, in no uncertain terms, that he needed to stop performing "his own stunts," a development that the tabloid felt would "drastically affect his pay packet."

According to the tabloid's source, Fraser's dealings with the troublesome tree ended badly: "As the chainsaw went through the bark, Brendan's back gave way," the source said, "and he was left in excruciating pain." Fraser's rehabilitation reportedly involved "using a stroller for awhile." The omniscient Radar Online source also implied Fraser's back problems were at the root of his financial concerns: He began to "fret about his future income prospects," the source said, hence his eagerness to reduce his alimony payments.

​His ex accused him of lying about being broke

Ever have one of those years where you expected to make exactly zero dollars? Evidently, Brendan Fraser did — in 2009, the same year he divorced Afton Smith.

In February 2013, Smith was reportedly having a real tough time believing Fraser hadn't made any cash that year. According to the New York Post, "court records and testimony" from 2009 indicated Fraser only "expected to make $0" in the foreseeable future. He reportedly told the court that he'd arrived on that nice round zero because he wasn't sure whether any acting gigs were on the horizon. Meanwhile, Smith's lawyer was reportedly quite eager to point out that Fraser "had $24.7 million in assets" as of December 2012, a mere two months before this whole unfortunate legal saga unfolded. Smith allegedly accused her ex-husband of "fraud" and claimed he'd brazenly concealed "$9 million in new film contracts" when their divorce was being settled. 

This back-and-forth lasted for months. In August 2013, Smith reportedly pointed out that Fraser made a small fortune by starring in two films in 2010 (per TMZ). There was the mediocre medical drama Extraordinary Measures, and the best-avoided comedy Furry Vengeance, a film that features Fraser's character being outsmarted by a crafty CGI raccoon (who urinates on Fraser's face in a pivotal scene). 

The legend of the William Tell movie lawsuit

How did this elevator pitch ever make it above the ground floor? In May 2011, it was announced that Brendan Fraser would take on the role of legendary marksman William Tell, who once allegedly shot an apple right off his son's head in 1307. (There's more to the tale, but we won't spoil it for you.) As Deadline reported, Arclight Pictures set their sights on Fraser for the titular role in William Tell … The Legend 3D, but the production never got off the ground. Perhaps producers feared — perhaps rightly — that audiences wouldn't be captivated by the creaky legend of a Swiss archer, even though the film was going to be shot in 3D. (You would've seen that arrow fly right at you.)

In May 2012, Fraser reportedly sued producer Todd Moyer for promising him that "principal photography would begin by October 11" (per Deadline). That didn't happen, and Fraser allegedly turned down other roles based on Moyer's promise. Fraser's lawsuit alleged Moyer hadn't raised "sufficient financing" for the film, and claimed the producer even "alienated potential investors." More to the point: Fraser was reportedly assured he'd be paid upwards of "$2.25 million," but he reportedly never saw any money. Fraser sued Moyer for "breach of contract and fraud," and he demanded "$3 million in compensatory damages," on top of "punitive and exemplary damages."

​He was sued for allegedly 'battering' a producer

Had William Tell … The Legend 3D ever galloped its way into theaters with trumpets blaring, it's likely that nothing on screen would've surpassed the swashbuckling behind-the-scenes drama following this botched deal.

In July 2012, TMZ reported that producer Todd Moyer sued Brendan Fraser over "TWO physical attacks." He claimed the "intoxicated" star had confronted him in July 2011 "at the Hilton Hotel in Indianapolis" and proceeded to "physically push, verbally threaten and poke [him] in the chest repeatedly." Moyer alleged a similar skirmish took place several months later during a conversation about producer Charlotte Huggins: Fraser allegedly wanted her involved with Tell, and Moyer didn't.

According to TMZ, Fraser allegedly went ballistic, shouting and hitting "Moyer in the chest at least 20 times." As a result, Moyer demanded $25,000 for suffering "extreme mental anguish and physical pain." Following the initial publication of the story, Fraser's lawyer told TMZ that Moyer "just put his company into bankruptcy" and called the lawsuit a "desperate attempt… to avoid paying his debt." Oddly, there's no word on how either lawsuit between Fraser and Moyer panned out, as media coverage of both quickly fizzled, like so many theoretical 3D blockbusters based on the legend of William Tell.

Why he became 'reclusive'

From grim to grimmer: As The New York Times reported as early as Jan. 13, 2004, Philip Berk, a man who was once president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), reportedly "grabbed [Brendan] Fraser's buttocks" after a 2003 ceremony at the Beverly Hills Hotel, shortly after the star "announced the group's annual charitable donation." Berk subsequently wrote off the encounter as a "joke" in his 2014 memoir With Signs and Wonders, but Fraser clearly wasn't amused (via The Hollywood Reporter). In a sprawling interview with GQ, the actor went into far more detail about the incident: "His left hand reaches around, grabs my a** cheek, and one of his fingers touches me. … And he starts moving it around."

The alleged encounter had a profoundly negative effect on Fraser: He told GQ he "became depressed" and "miserable," blaming himself for all of it. Berk's actions "made me retreat," he admitted. "It made me feel reclusive." If Fraser can be believed, Berk's actions negatively impacted the actor's career too, as A-list jobs "withered on the vine" in the years following the incident. Ultimately, Fraser couldn't help but feel like "something had been taken away from [him]."

Was he blacklisted?

Following the Philip Berk incident, Brendan Fraser began to suspect that his name was mud in Hollywood. According to GQ, he even "wondered if the HFPA had blacklisted him." His evidence was so many tumbleweeds, cow skulls, and crickets: "I don't know if [the incident] curried disfavor with the group, with the HFPA," he said, "but the silence was deafening." He claimed that he wasn't invited to The Golden Globes as frequently, although Berk categorically denies having had a hand in any of that: "His career declined through no fault of ours," Berk told GQ.

"The phone does stop ringing in your career," Fraser acknowledged, "and you start asking yourself why." And while it's natural to experience ebb and flow throughout one's professional life, Fraser couldn't help but wonder whether something sinister was at play behind the scenes. Was his encounter with Berk the reason for all this radio silence? "I think it was," Fraser admitted. And the less attention Fraser received from the powers that be, the more he retreated from the Hollywood machine. "Not 'cause I'm aloof or anything," he said, "but because I just felt I couldn't be a part of it. I didn't feel that I belonged."

Studio execs allegedly weren't too fond of him

Versatility and an open mind are theoretically beneficial to an actor, but what if those traits are interpreted as a willingness to accept any role in pursuit of a paycheck? An Entertainment Weekly profile from 2009 suggests Brendan Fraser's reputation suffered over his penchant for frothy fare like George of the Jungle. "His name on the marquee is a guarantee of mediocrity," one unnamed producer brutishly told the magazine.  

Paul Haggis, the writer and director who cast Fraser in his 2004 film Crash, suggested the star had yet to establish himself as a dramatic actor, despite appearing in movies like School Ties in 1992. "[Studio execs] think of Sean Penn or Josh Brolin or whoever for dramas," Haggis told Entertainment Weekly. "They don't think of Brendan Fraser." 

Meanwhile, Bill Lawrence, the former executive producer of the NBC comedy Scrubs, told the magazine Fraser was "undercredited for how talented he is." (Fraser appeared on three episodes of the show.) Stephen Sommers, who directed Fraser in the original Mummy film and its sequel, The Mummy Returns, offered that "the films he made in between the two Mummy movies really hurt his career," apparently of mind that the first two Mummy films were both solid bids at credibility. Meanwhile, Fraser admits his motivation for accepting a role in the 2000 comedy Bedazzled — for which he was paid $10 million — was largely financial: "I was looking to start a family," he told the magazine.

His public image suffered

In 2014, Tribeca Film described Brendan Fraser as "a middle-aged actor, fighting a paunch and hair loss." For years, tabloids relished any opportunity to pick apart his appearance, with E! Online wondering in 2009 if he'd invested in "expensive hair plugs." Meanwhile, tabloids like the Daily Mail and the Mirror called Fraser' "unrecognizable." As far as public perception goes, Fraser didn't do himself any favors during a 2016 interview with AOL's BUILD channel on YouTube, his first in many years: The interview went viral for all the wrong reasons via the "Sad Brendan" meme. As GQ noted, Fraser appeared "morose and sad," prompting fans to wonder if he was still bummed about his 2009 divorce, or maybe he felt abandoned when The Mummy franchise soldiered on without him?

The answer was actually far sadder. "I buried my mom," Fraser told GQ. "I think I was in mourning, and I didn't know what that meant." It sounds like Fraser was also ill at ease with his surroundings: "I wasn't quite sure what the format was," he explained, "and I felt like: Man, I got f**king old. Damn, this is the way it's done now?" 

Meanwhile, many fans were still rooting for Fraser: As IndieWire reported in 2017, the subreddit r/SAVEBRENDAN featured thousands of subscribers begging producers to give him another chance. Though the New York Post implied those people "need[ed] a hobby," it appears a few producers may have taken their advice to heart.

From 'Encino Man' to comeback kid?

In 2009, back when Brendan Fraser was promoting the flaccid fantasy film Inkheart, Entertainment Weekly insisted the actor "deserves some respect." Nearly a decade later, Fraser's career experienced something of a renaissance thanks to his recurring role in the FX melodrama Trust, which dramatizes the foibles of the wealthy Getty family. In April 2018, The Ringer proclaimed "Brendan Fraser Is the Reason to Watch Trust." Salon was equally effusive and a touch more flowery in their praise: "FX's Trust bequeaths unto us the golden return of Brendan Fraser." In an interview with Vanity Fair, it was clear Fraser was enjoying all the flattery: "This project has given me a good shot of confidence," he said.

As Decider noted, his "comeback began with a role on The Affair," a performance that demonstrated that a "slouchier and stockier" Fraser had "lost none of his ability to physically impose." Danny Boyle, an executive producer on Trust, told GQ he wanted Fraser to portray James Fletcher Chace after catching him on The Affair: "I utterly believed him," he said, recalling the pleasure of watching "someone you're so familiar with who is so changed by time and by experience. … It's both so sad and wonderful."  Fraser, often meandering in interviews, was unusually succinct when describing how he arrived at this moment: "Something good came out of something that was bad," he told GQ. "Sometimes it takes a while for that to happen."