The Transformation Of Ted Danson From 23 To 74 Years Old

The actor has been such a consistent cultural part of the American consciousness for so long, that you'd be forgiven for thinking that the transformation of Ted Danson simply isn't a thing. It's understandable. On top of being a national treasure, it also feels like the "Mr. Mayor" star has been the same age forever — his trademark white hair, reassuring grin, and comforting comedic voice have seemingly never wavered throughout most of our lifetimes. 

But the star has grown a great deal since his early days as a small-time actor bouncing between odd jobs. And, like anybody else, Danson's transformation has involved some extreme ups and downs, including some difficult life experiences, mistakes, and epiphanies which, pushed him deeper on his journey to become one of the greatest and most beloved American actors of his — or any — generation.

Career-wise and looks-wise, Danson has tread across the same paths time and time again, returning to similar outfits, style choices, character types, and stories affectionately and with great grace. But step back, and you'll notice that the actor improves a little each and every time. As his transformation from 23 to 74 proves, with every role and every outfit, he becomes a little more Danson. And damn, we all love him for it.

The struggling soap opera star

Before he became one of TV's most beloved stars, Ted Danson fell in love with acting, thanks to his college crush. As he told NPR, he'd followed the apple of his eye to an audition "just to be with her" and was told he "had to actually audition" to be there, so he "just kind of made something up." Improbably, he scored himself a role and it awakened something inside him. "I got the smallest part you could get," he said, "... but I was hooked."

He continued to enjoy building his portfolio with more tiny roles, before becoming responsible for an outbreak of extreme swooning across America when he was cast as the Aramis Man in the memorable adverts for the cologne. He also dabbled with performances in soap operas including Tom Conway in "Somerset" and two minor recurring roles in "The Doctors" — not that he enjoyed it. Danson described starring in soap operas as "the actor's nightmare" due to the unpredictable and often last-minute nature of filming. Worse still, he didn't do too great at it: "Thumb through the soap opera magazines [of that time]," he joked to NPR, "you will not find me."

But there was, sadly, one other failure during this time of Ted Danson's life. In the 1970s, he married actor Randy Gosch — still known as Randy Danson — whom he met at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. After five years, the two divorced, just as Ted's short-lived soap opera career was beginning. 

A complicated second marriage

Ted Danson would move on quickly from his first divorce, marrying his second wife, Cassandra (Casey) Coates, in 1977. What should have been a celebratory time, would instead prove to be a difficult experience for the couple. They were to face some unexpected complications that would cause an understandable degree of distress and disruption to their lives and relationship.

In 1979, the couple had their first child together. Tragically, Coates suffered a huge stroke during childbirth, which left her partly paralyzed, according to People. "It was horrifying," Danson told the publication, "But after you get over the shock, you roll up your sleeves and work at getting things better." For a while that seemed to be the case, with Danson supporting his wife in learning how to walk again, and even adopting a second child together.

But the actor revealed to People that these life changes had caused "a huge rift" between the two based on "a massive lack of trust." Casey Coates said, "We're adjusting to the fact that we aren't the same people we were before this happened." The couple was irrevocably changed by their experiences, and they would have further trouble in their marriage. In the meantime, Danson's career continued to trickle forward with minor one-off roles in TV shows including "Mrs. Columbo," "Laverne & Shirley," "The Amazing Spider-Man," and "B.J. and the Bear." Hey, whatever pays the bills.

Raise a toast to Sam Malone

Though his marriage continued to face challenges, Ted Danson's career would take off when he was cast in the NBC sitcom "Cheers." The actor's proclivity for being a reliable and charismatic guest star really paid off, as a minor role in "Taxi" — crafted by some of the same writers and producers — led to the opportunity. In the role of womanizing, former baseball star Sam Malone, Danson would showcase his all-American good looks alongside his sparkling charisma.

As writer-producer Ken Levine told The Hollywood Reporter, however, though he certainly looked the part, the role was way outside of the star's wheelhouse. "Ted felt very uncomfortable at first playing Sam because he wasn't a lothario in real life," Levine said. "But he brought a quality to Sam that he himself possesses: kindness and humanity. That went a long way toward the audience embracing Sam."

Danson backed up the observation during a GQ interview, where he confessed to not really knowing how to play the character for "at least two years" because of how different he was from the babe magnet bartender. "I didn't date a lot," he said, adding, "If I kissed somebody, I was basically married." Humble as ever and much like the start of his career, he credited his casting to a woman — his co-star Shelley Long, who depicted bartender Diane, the gin to Sam's tonic. "I maintain that I got Sam because I was teamed with Shelley. She was really unique. ... She was Diane."

Does Ted Danson wear a hairpiece?

By 1987, Ted Danson was a bona fide television star and had the swagger of one, too. Thus, he introduced the Danson style staple: jeans and a buttoned-down shirt (ever-so-slightly unbuttoned, yes ladies), paired with a devastating suit jacket — the likes of which make him look slick and dashing but also quite comfortable. He had additional reasons to strut during this time, having successfully made the leap to movies with the release of "3 Men and a Baby" in 1987 and its 1990 sequel, "3 Men and a Little Lady."

Starring opposite fellow TV hunk Tom Selleck and "Police Academy's" suave ragtag cop Steve Guttenberg, Danson found a desire to step back from easy lead roles to pursue more unique performances once again. Speaking of "3 Men and a Baby," the actor mused to ABC News, "In essence, I play the leading lady [opposite Selleck]" he said, explaining that he "came away wanting to do character stuff again." 

Not that Danson needed to depict idiosyncratic characters to be perceived as a unique star, himself. In 1990, the "Cheers" lead broke all Hollywood style rules by proudly showing off his bald spot while accepting his first Emmy award. As South Florida Sun Sentinel described it, the actor "earned respect" from men and women alike for showing up to the awards ceremony without his usual hairpiece — something he'd likely "be doing roles with and without" from then on, according to his publicist. 

The Whoopi Goldberg affair

By 1992, America's most beloved sitcom star had a public affair with Whoopi Goldberg that not only dramatically ended his marriage to Cassandra Coates, but also lead to a controversy so big it almost derailed his career. Ted Danson and Whoopi Goldberg started their passionate romance on the set of the comedy film "Made in America," as People reported. Their secret love was soon discovered and outed by the tabloids, which prompted Coates (understandably) to slap divorce papers on her unfaithful hubby. 

The ensuing divorce reportedly cost Danson a staggering $30 million, a figure practically unheard of in celebrity splits at that time. The public breakup may have been a financial shock for Danson, but it at least meant he was now free to live happily ever after with his new partner, right? Not exactly. 

In 1993, Goldberg and Danson separated following a storm of controversy connected to Danson performing in blackface at a Friar's Club roast of Goldberg. According to AP News, the racially charged comedy set drew a mixed response from the audience, but some — such as talk show host Montel Williams, who said the performance made his white wife cry — were outraged, with Danson accused of racism.

Goldberg defended her beau and insisted she'd written much of his material, while Danson responded, "There was too much love behind my words to ever be misconstrued as racist. Racism is a matter of intent. My intent was to amuse my dear friend Whoopi" (via The Baltimore Sun). Regardless, their romance couldn't survive the backlash.

From endings, new beginnings

Not content with simply experiencing a colossal career hiccup and two public breakups, Ted Danson decided to quit "Cheers," too. The actor explained to GQ that the decision was necessary during such a critical, introspective juncture for himself. "It felt like if I really wanted to ... make changes in my life and who I am and how I am, that would also mean moving on from 'Cheers.'" And thus, the show served it's final episode to audiences in 1993.

It was a tumultuous transitional period for the actor. One punctuated by a near-fatal car accident, which he managed to escape from "miraculously unharmed," and which gave him a new perspective on the next phase of his life. He reflected to Entertainment Weekly on how he was oddly peaceful sitting in the wreckage of his car, thinking, "how effortless it would be to pass from living to not living." Luckily, he survived, and said to himself, "Time to get on with whatever you're going to do with the rest of your life." 

Unsurprisingly, this major shift translated to Danson's sense of style. The actor was looking less roguish and a little more professional, as though he was dressing for the future he'd mused about post-accident. As the AARP noted in their profile of the star, this was the period when Danson "let his hair go gray," marking the beginning of "the happiest years of Ted Danson's life." 

Marrying Mary Steenburgen

The first major step into his new life saw Ted Danson finding true love when he started dating actor Mary Steenburgen. According to People, the two first met all the way back in 1983, when he auditioned to play the part of her husband in the film "Cross Creek." Danson wasn't successful but counted the rejection as a blessing, "because man, I was a hot mess back then," he told the magazine. Steenburgen agreed, "I was married. He was married. That was not our moment."

Instead, the couple found romance together ten years later, after appearing as co-stars in the 1994 adventure film "Pontiac Moon," per People. In 1996, the newlyweds consummated their marriage the Hollywood way, by starring together in the CBS sitcom "Ink." And while the show wasn't as successful as, say, "Cheers," it seemed to bring the couple and their audience a great deal of joy.

An Entertainment Weekly interview with Danson and Steenburgen, for instance, describes the couple as being "disgustingly happy" and "gushing with mushy sentiment and mutual appreciation." Les Moonves, then president of CBS Entertainment, recalled that the sitcom veteran was so enthused about his new wife that he'd often say, "What a lucky guy I am. I get to work with the woman I love 14 hours a day!" Danson's third marriage looked good on him, with the actor leveling up his suit game with slightly more high-end, tailored looks to compliment the quirky sophistication of his new bride. 

Becoming television's favorite schmuck

Though he had the briefest flirtation with being a bad boy, America seemed eager to welcome back its favorite TV nice guy. And that worked out by the end of the '90s, when Ted Danson was cast as the eponymous lead on "Becker." The star portrayed an outspoken misanthropic doctor, a character type which went against his own persona. Naturally, Danson was over the moon. "At age 50, it's nice not to have to be nice," he told Deseret News, "I spend a great many hours a day being politically correct. It's great to go to work and be a schmuck." 

The seasoned television star's prestige had earned him the sort of plaudits that made him a sought-after guest star, too. While he reconnected with "Cheers" stars Kelsey Grammar and Kirstie Alley for guest appearances on "Frasier" and "Veronica's Closet," respectively, he also scored it big with a minor role in Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan." In a twist of satirical genius, Danson depicted a version of himself in "Diagnosis Murder," wherein he delivers a comedy roast against Dick Van Dyke's Dr. Mark Sloan. It went much better than his last real-life roast.

Sartorially, Danson had a sudden intellectual strut to him, albeit a casual one. He was still rocking his suits — and some very dapper spectacles — but is he buttoning those bad boys up all the way? Not a chance.

A pretty, pretty, pretty good role with Larry David

By 2000, Ted Danson's nonchalant sense of dapper style would become such an entrenched part of his personality that it was almost parody — fitting, given his next big role as one of Larry David's (many) frenemies in "Curb Your Enthusiasm." The actor depicted an exaggerated version of himself, the kind of good-looking, perennially pleasant good-guy that David repeatedly butts heads with in the meta-sitcom.

As The New Yorker explained, Danson's role as a key "competitor, foil, [and] agitator of Larry" had been a long time coming, given that Danson was a repeated subject of George Costanza's existential grief throughout David's '90s sitcom, "Seinfeld." The character complains about Danson making "eight hundred thousand dollars an episode," and shouts, "I can't live knowing that Ted Danson makes that much more than me."

Appropriately, Danson suggested that he only really took the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" role out of pity. He admitted to The A.V. Club that he viewed the pilot episode in Larry David's "boiling hot" attic room, where other guests "fell asleep" whilst watching it. "I felt a little sorry for him," Danson said. Sorry enough to tell told David that he and Mary Steenburgen would "love to take part" in the show. Luckily, the sitcom turned out better than the pilot, and even Ted Danson agreed it was "one of the best things that happened to me, career-wise." 

Wins, losses, and nude scenes

Ted Danson's strange career continued to be in flux while he experienced the same extreme career highs and lows as ever. An attempt to lead a new sitcom — the woefully reviewed "Help Me Help You" — came to nothing, and the show was pulled from the ABC schedule in 2007 after just nine episodes aired (via TV Series Finale). On the flip side, Danson was nominated for an Emmy award that year for his impressive dramatic performance as shady multi-billionaire Arthur Frobisher in "Damages." Hollywood truly gives with one hand and takes with another.

In 2005, the actor welcomed his approaching 60th birthday by doing his first-ever movie scene in his birthday suit for ensemble comedy flick "The Moguls" (later called "The Amateurs"). As the actor described it, the scene involved him "standing around in the buff quite a while. To the point where they couldn't get my clothes back on me. I was starting to enjoy the process," Danson told Collider.

Though he joked that he had "clearly stopped working out" and was ironically "really buff right before we started," it's worth noting that the star somehow looked even more chiseled than usual during this era. Danson leaned into his age fantastically well, and his magnetic confidence was a breath of fresh air in an industry where stars sometimes disappear the second the big 5-0 hits. Basically, there's no polite way to put it: The guy looked seriously hot, okay? No more questions.

Ted Danson: Official cool guy

Ted Danson's golden era continued in every way possible and was cemented by him suddenly becoming one of the hippest stars on screen. In 2009, he was cast in kooky Jonathan Ames' comedy series "Bored to Death," wherein he played an eccentric stoner pal of Jason Schwarzman's writer-turned-private-eye character.

As Ames said at the 2017 Vulture Festival in L.A., Danson may have taken his role a little too seriously. Ames, Schwarzman, and Danson "got really stoned" using the infamous Volcano weed vaporizer from the show. The effects were apparently so debilitating they were still felt the next day. "It was the first time in three years that Ted struggled with his lines," Ames said, understandably worried that he'd "destroyed him." Danson furthermore quipped, "You can see the aftereffects to this day."

Now in his 60s, the actor inexplicably had something of a Benjamin Button aging vibe going on. Is it possible he was getting younger? The evidence suggested so. In 2011, he was referenced in the lyrics to the Beastie Boys song "Make Some Noise," wherein Mike D spits, "Opened up a restaurant with Ted Danson." The actor also had the great privilege of guest-starring in the music video for the song, along with the associated short-film, "Fight For Your Right Revisited." Was it any wonder he suggested to that he was "the happiest [he'd] been in a long time"? This man was totally feeling himself, and who can blame him?

Activism and facial hair

Ted Danson is many a wondrous thing, but one thing that he definitely is not is a bearded man. The actor grew his first (and hopefully last) beard for his small but memorable role in Season 2 of "Fargo," and rest assured, he wasn't a fan of it, either. The second that filming wrapped, he was ready to sacrifice his awkward facial hair for the good of mankind:  "I was standing over the sink, with a razor in my hand," he told Channel 4. "I couldn't wait to get rid of it."

On top of entering his "CSI" phase — a moment every older actor must participate, in according to sacred California law — Danson also notably published his first book, "Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans And What We Can Do To Save Them." As the actor told the Los Angeles Times, he'd always been "kind of a shill" for environmental activism and was proud to lend his voice to help raise awareness and support in protecting the ocean from "huge environmental disaster."

Fashion-wise, Danson got himself a little more loose and casual in his style. His ever-changing range of spectacles gave him the intellectual gravitas of a legit writer, but his affection for blue jeans reminded the world that he was comfortable and settled and still pretty with it, dammit. "If you go around talking about fish, you have to scramble to find ways to remain hip," he joked to the Los Angeles Times. 

Becoming a forking better person

By the time that Ted Danson was cast in the philosophical afterlife sitcom "The Good Place," he'd spent a fair few years away from serving up chuckles on TV. When production partners Mike Schur and David Miner brought Danson on board for "The Good Place," Miner told the actor, "Comedy misses you" (per Vanity Fair). And how.

In the role of the kind and compassionate demon architect Michael, Danson was able to flex everything he did best as an actor: slightly caustic humor with a sufficient sting of sweetness. It also offered ample opportunity for the actor to reflect on life. Speaking to The Awardist podcast, Danson suggested that he took his character's suggestion to "just try to be a little bit better, every day," to heart. "We're human. We have anger, spite, all the villainous things of humanity, we all have inside of ourselves," he said. "I think [with] this show I got to amusingly look at my shortcomings."

It may have bettered him on an existential level, but "The Good Place" also elevated the actor professionally and sartorially. On top of earning Emmy nominations for his performance on the hit show, Danson also appeared to take style notes from his flashily-suited character. The actor stepped out of his comfort zone and into a tremendous array of new patterns, fabrics, cuts, and colors which made him look celebratory and utterly buoyant. 

Arrested for activism

Clearly, Ted Danson brought all his confidence into his 70s. America's long-reigning sitcom king continued to sit proud atop his TV throne. As "The Good Place" enjoyed it's emotional finale, Danson stepped assuredly into his new role as billionaire-businessman-turned-politican Neil Bremer in Tina Fey's comedy joint, "Mr. Mayor." As The Ringer pointed out, "although nobody needed convincing that" he was capable of it, the show ultimately proved "that Danson's not done bolstering his case as the GOAT of TV." Indeed. 

The actor seemingly wasn't done with bolstering his case as an avid activist of environmental concern. In 2019, Danson was arrested alongside fellow activist Jane Fonda for "unlawfully demonstrating" at a climate crisis protest at the U.S. Capital (via CNN).  During an interview on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," Danson said that meeting Fonda was life-changing, and getting cuffed by the cops only strengthened his resolve. "I think that arrest made me want to double down on climate change," he shared.

What better for a hip, 70-something, rabble-rousing actor to wear than a sophisticated pair of spectacles with a flat cap and sweater combo? As ever, Danson was dressed for practicality as much as personality at the demonstration. These were clothes that would be comfortable to wear for a night in the cells, sure, but they were also aligned with the simple signature style he'd rocked since his early days — only now, everybody knew his name. And he was using it for good.