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Pierce, David Hyde (b. 1959)  
 
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Award-winning stage and screen actor David Hyde Pierce is best known for his portrayal of the effete and sometimes pompous but always lovable Dr. Niles Crane on the long-running hit comedy television series Frasier. Closeted for decades, Pierce came out in 2007 and publicly acknowledged his partner, Brian Hargrove, in his acceptance speech at the Tony Awards ceremony.

David Hyde Pierce comes from a middle-class family. His father, George Pierce, was an insurance agent in Saratoga Springs, New York, and his mother, Laura Pierce, was a homemaker. David, the youngest of their four children, was born April 3, 1959.

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Pierce showed a flair for acting early on, writing little plays that he put on with friends from school. On the one hand, he favored dramatic death scenes--succumbing both as Julius Caesar and John Dillinger--but he also had an instinct for comedy, realizing as a second-grader, he recalled, that "a joke was funnier if I didn't laugh. I've been deadpan ever since."

Pierce is also a talented musician and aspired to a career as a concert pianist. When, as a youngster, he announced this ambition to his parents, they showed him an encyclopedia entry about Albert Schweitzer, an accomplished musician as well as a Nobel Peace laureate, in order to encourage him not to "narrow his focus" too soon.

Pierce remained set on a career in the arts, however. Upon his graduation from Saratoga Springs High School in 1977, he was awarded the Yaddo Medal for best dramatic arts student and subsequently enrolled at Yale University as a music major.

Once he got to college, he later recalled, "It became clear to me that not only didn't I have what it takes talentwise to be a concert pianist, but . . . I didn't want to sit for twelve hours in a practice room and didn't want to take all the music history classes that you had to take." He changed his major to English and theater arts and earned his bachelor's degree in 1981.

Following his graduation from Yale, he moved to New York City, where he took more acting classes, keeping body and soul together with a variety of jobs, including a security guard, a church organist, and a tie salesman at Bloomingdale's, while awaiting his break as an actor.

His Broadway debut was a modest one: he had a small part as a waiter in Christopher Durang's Beyond Therapy in 1982. The following year he joined the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and worked there as an ensemble player for three years before returning to New York. He won the role of Laertes in the New York Shakespeare Festival's production of Hamlet in 1986.

Pierce made his first television performance on Spenser for Hire in 1987 and appeared on the big screen--albeit in small roles--in 1988 in James Bridges' Bright Lights, Big City, Daniel Petrie's Rocket Gibraltar, Joan Micklin Silver's Crossing Delancey, and Dean Parisot's The Appointments of Dennis Jennings.

In 1989 Pierce was back on Broadway, playing a gay pediatrician in Wendy Wasserstein's The Heidi Chronicles. Following this appearance on the stage, he moved to Hollywood, a decision that he initially explained--rather unconvincingly--by saying, "It was highly unlikely that I would ever get a better part. So I could stay there and hope to some day do as well again, or I could strike out on something different." He would later reveal that the cross-country relocation was prompted by the desire of his life partner, Brian Hargrove, to write for television.

In California, Pierce found work with small roles in a number of films--Robert Bierman's Vampire's Kiss (1989), Kevin Meyer's Civil War Diary (1990), Jodie Foster's Little Man Tate (1991), Terry Gilliam's The Fisher King (1991), and Barry Sonnenfeld's Addams Family Values (1993)--as well as a more important role as the brother of the female lead in Nora Ephron's Sleepless in Seattle (1993).

In 1992, Pierce won a role on a television situation comedy about a political family, The Powers That Be, produced by Norman Lear. The show--and Pierce's performance in particular--received favorable critical comment, but the program failed to find an audience and was cancelled after less than a season.

Pierce soon returned to television, this time in the highly successful and long-running series Frasier (1993-2004). Producers planning a spin-off for Kelsey Grammer's psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane character from the hit series Cheers saw in Pierce a physical resemblance to their star and called him in for an interview, with the thought that they might possibly include a brother character for Frasier. So impressed were they with Pierce that they created the co-starring role of Dr. Niles Crane, also a psychiatrist, especially for him.

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David Hyde Pierce at the Emmy Awards in 1994. Photo by Alan Light.
  
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