Back in 1993, Ted Danson was going through a tough time. He’d just walked away from Cheers – the series that’d made his name – leaving him at something of a career crossroads. To add to that, his second marriage had not long since ended. Then, while filming adventure flick Pontiac Moon, Danson first got to know Mary Steenburgen. And it’s fair to say that the pair hit it off, as they’ve now been married for nearly a quarter of a century. But what does the actor really feel about his spouse? Well, when talking to an interviewer, he decided to drop quite the bombshell.
Yes, Danson and Steenburgen have been wed since 1995 – even though the actress has claimed that she had previously given up on relationships. Shooting Pontiac Moon seemed to change Steenburgen’s mind, though, and playing Danson’s wife during a pivotal canoe scene turned out to be the clincher.
Speaking to Closer in 2018, Danson recalled this time with his future wife, saying, “We paddled in sync. We went out as friends, and by the time we came back, we were in love… Ironic how life works in those moments. Once you throw up your arms and surrender, a lot of times things come your way.”
Way before he ever became a Hollywood star, however, Danson grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona. And while his archaeologist dad, Ned, had a prestigious job as the director of the Museum of Northern Arizona, the Danson family were far from rich.
In 2017 Danson explained to AARP The Magazine, “The unspoken message I got as a child was that we had nothing. We didn’t have TVs. I looked like a ragamuffin. My clothes were all hand-me-downs. My dad worked, and there was enough money for the necessities, but getting more and more money was never a goal.”
Steenburgen also weighed in on the subject of Danson’s childhood, telling the publication, “People don’t really know this about Ted, but he grew up with friends who were either Hopi, Navajo or the sons and daughters of ranchers. And he had enormous freedom to just explore and appreciate the vast, idyllic landscape around him.”
Steenburgen continued, “[Ted’s] got a very strong sense that life means more than the number of roles you’ve played or how much money you’ve made, and I think that comes from experiencing the world a certain way when he was very young.” Being poor didn’t mean Danson had a bad childhood, either. The actor added, “There wasn’t a day that went by that I wasn’t told that I was loved in one form or another.”
The young Danson also developed a great love of the environment, which led him in turn to an unusual form of activism. Along with his friends, he began “billboarding” – or helping dismantle the advertisements they saw around them. That desire to protect the world has since progressed, as today Danson is on the board of sea conservation charity Oceana.
And if life had gone slightly differently for Danson, he may well have had a career in sports. Back in the early 1960s, you see, the future star excelled on his prep school basketball team. While he was at Stanford University, though, drama grabbed his attention for the first time. Then, after switching to Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University, he earned a bachelor’s degree in the discipline in 1972.
But Danson’s acting career didn’t take off immediately. To begin with, he established himself in soaps, taking on roles in Somerset and The Doctors. He also featured as the “Aramis man” in cologne ads and guested in many popular TV series of the day.
Then, in 1982, the actor’s big break came when he was chosen to portray charming bartender Sam Malone in beloved sitcom Cheers. And as the show’s ratings soared, Danson became a household name. Awards success came, too, with the star scooping a pair of Emmys and the same number of Golden Globes for his performance.
Danson also took to the silver screen during his Cheers run, most notably starring in 1987 comedy Three Men and a Baby and its 1990 sequel. And over the years, he built up quite the resume, with spots in films such as Body Heat, Getting Even with Dad and Saving Private Ryan.
Danson even proved his dramatic chops in the 1984 TV movie Something About Amelia. Comedy seems to be the actor’s forte, however, as proved by the success of his post-Cheers sitcom Becker. And in 1999 Danson would receive perhaps the ultimate accolade in his line of work: a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
When quizzed by AARP The Magazine about his longevity in show business, Danson said, “My philosophy is: don’t hang on to whatever degree of success or celebrity you have. Find the smartest people you can and work with them – even if it means taking a smaller role. Get lost in something that inspires you. Find the people who can make you a better person. That’s how you stay fresh.”
The star continued, “In my case, I’m working with the most creative people in the world, and they have a project they just have to do come hell or high water. I want to be part of that. If some writer gets hired to make something for Ted Danson, they won’t have the same degree of creative passion.”
That’s not to say Danson hasn’t experienced a few hiccups during his career, of course. But he’s managed to bounce back; when sitcom Help Me Help You bombed, he followed it up with acclaim and a Screen Actors Guild Awards nomination for TV movie Knights of the South Bronx. An Emmy nod similarly came for his performance as Arthur Frobisher in Damages.
And yet another sitcom, Bored to Death, saw Danson praised yet again, with critics hailing him as the series’ high point. More recently, the veteran actor has charmed fans with roles in CSI, Fargo and as repentant demon Michael in The Good Place.
Behind the scenes, though, Danson’s romantic life has seen some ups and downs. Following an early marriage that ended after half a decade, he tied the knot with producer Casey Coates in 1977. And while the arrival of the couple’s daughter, Kate, should have been cause for celebration, it sadly also prompted a tragedy. While in labor, Coates had a stroke, leaving Danson to both help raise his daughter and assist in his wife’s rehabilitation in the years that followed.
Then, while still married to Coates, Danson had a torrid affair with actress Whoopi Goldberg. And, understandably, this infidelity played some part in the Cheers actor’s later divorce, with Coates reportedly receiving a $30 million settlement as a result of the split.
In time, though, Danson would get together with fellow star Steenburgen. She had been born in Newport, Arkansas – a town arguably best known for being the place where Walmart founder Sam Walton first got his start in the retail business.
And Steenburgen also studied drama – in her case, at the nearby Hendrix College. However, after she ended up winning a spot at New York’s Neighborhood Playhouse, she relocated to the Big Apple. There, Steenburgen worked at her craft while keeping up day jobs at a branch of restaurant chain The Magic Pan and publisher Doubleday.
The budding actress would also have her chance at fame when Jack Nicholson ran into her at Paramount’s NY office. Following that chance encounter, Nicholson cast Steenburgen in Goin’ South – a 1978 Western that he directed. Then, the next year, Steenburgen appeared as the lead in Time After Time, where she starred alongside future husband Malcolm McDowell.
Yes, Steenburgen more than hit it off with McDowell, and the pair went on to marry and have two children together. But, sadly, their relationship wasn’t destined to last. After ten years of marriage, the pair ultimately divorced in 1990.
Professionally, though, Steenburgen was going from strength to strength. In 1980 she took home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her turn in Melvin and Howard – only her third silver-screen outing. She also received acclaim for 1983’s Cross Creek. And at her kids’ urging, Steenburgen embarked on arguably one of her best-known roles as Clara Clayton in Back to the Future Part III.
Ultimately, then, Steenburgen established herself as a go-to character actress with the range to star in films as disparate as What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Will Ferrell vehicle Elf. She would also appear again with Ferrell in 2008’s Step Brothers, and she continues to show up on the big screen to this day.
Steenburgen hasn’t restricted herself to movies, either. In particular, the 2010s saw the actress take a leading role in FX dramedy Wilfred, while TV viewers may also recognize her from 30 Rock and The Last Man on Earth. And then there’s the actress’ very successful foray into the musical world.
In 2007 Steenburgen experienced a strange side effect from a surgical procedure: being able to hear music. And after finally learning how to transcribe these tunes, the screen star embarked on a new career as a songwriter. Now, she has dozens of compositions and even a contract with Universal Music to her name.
Since 1995, though, Steenburgen has had one man by her side: Danson. And this was even despite the rough spell that the actor was experiencing at the time of the pair’s first encounter. While filming Pontiac Moon, Danson had only recently divorced from Coates; he was also in the process of breaking up with Goldberg.
Steenburgen had been experiencing some struggles, too, and so finding a friend in Danson had been welcome. She’d never fully come to terms with her childhood, which had been often been fraught with adversity – not least because of her father’s health issues.
In 2018 Steenburgen told Country Living magazine, “I spent my childhood waiting for my dad to die.” And she had still been grappling with the trauma of that time – even as a mother herself. Then the star found Danson, and she was finally able to lay some of her ghosts to rest.
Interestingly, though, Danson has since claimed that he wasn’t ready for a new romance at the time he met Steenburgen. He told AARP The Magazine, “I was a mess-and-a-half. I thought, ‘I’m incapable of being in a relationship.’ But I was working on myself.” That work happened in therapy, which apparently got Danson through a tough period – although some credit should also go to Steenburgen.
In particular, Danson told AARP The Magazine that the actress had helped him deal with his anxiety. He said, “Usually when I have a fearful thought, I flip it into gratitude. Like, if I think, ‘Oh dear, where’s Mary? She’s not home. Something must have happened,’ I tell myself, ‘Thank God I have the opportunity to be married to a woman whom I love so much.’ Because that love is what makes me afraid that she might be hurt or something.”
And despite the pressures that Hollywood can put on a marriage, the pair remain together. In fact, when Danson appeared on Today in 2017 and was asked how he’d managed to keep his relationship going, he replied simply. The actor said, “I’m married to Mary Steenburgen.”
Danson still appreciates Steenburgen, too, as she explained to People magazine in 2018. The actress revealed, “He does tell me every single day of my life I’m beautiful, and I do know a lot of women live without that.” So, what exactly does the Cheers star love about his wife of nearly a quarter of a century?
Well, when talking to Country Living, Danson said, “I like the way Mary laughs and smiles. I like her willingness to say yes to leap off [the] tall buildings of life. I love her sense of fairness and right and wrong. And I don’t think you’re supposed to say this when you’re almost 70, but she’s very sexy.”
With a love like that, it’s no wonder, then, that others have felt inspired just by being around Danson and Steenburgen. The Good Place’s Kristen Bell even told Country Living, “It’s almost intimidating spending time with Ted and Mary because of how solid and loving and connected they are. Honestly, it’s beautiful how they obsess over each other.”
And Danson didn’t hold back in 2017 when US Weekly magazine asked him to share his feelings about his wife. He said, “I’m madly in love with Mary Steenburgen. She’s a remarkable human being, so I’m just incredibly blessed.” That same year, Steenburgen also told Fox News that she had never been happier with her “ridiculously talented” husband.
Danson added to US Weekly that when he and Steenburgen were together, the pair loved to grab “major naps.” He went on, “I’m following her around. She writes music, she goes to Nashville. I’m about to stop actually shooting [The Good Place]. We’re through for the season in a week. So now I get to follow her and go wherever she goes.”
And, unsurprisingly, Steenburgen had plenty of praise for Danson when she opened up about her marriage to Closer. She explained, “I’m ridiculously in love with him. I find him endlessly fascinating. He surprises me all the time, and most of all he makes me laugh.”
So when Larry David wrote a separation plot for the couple in Curb Your Enthusiasm, the scenes that played out on TV were very far from the truth. And Danson hinted at this during his chat with US Weekly. Touchingly, the actor said to the magazine, “If I were to die, I can say [that] I know what it’s like to be loved and to love.”