This Is Why Brendan Fraser Vanished From Hollywood

The dude was everywhere for a while. From 1992’s Encino Man to 1999’s George of the Jungle to all those The Mummy movies, Brendan Fraser was very much an in-demand Hollywood star. And then, all of a sudden, poof – the guy went AWOL.

Brendan Fraser / Sean Astin and Brendan Fraser / Brendan Fraser / Ashley Judd and Brendan Fraser
Source: Getty Images

In the last few years, he’s been making somewhat of a comeback, but no one can really ignore just how different the guy looks. As it turns out, there was a very legitimate reason for why Fraser left the spotlight. One particular incident led him to take more than a few steps back…

There Might Be an Encino Man Sequel

Brendan Fraser is no longer the handsome, young dude we saw on our screens in the ‘90s. Not to say that he’s not handsome now, but let’s face it – life has gotten to him. For years, he was on film posters and billboards, only to vanish and be forgotten by Hollywood’s short-term memory loss.

Pauly Shore, Brendan Fraser, and Sean Astin In a still from Encino Man.
Source: Buena Vista Pictures

What might amuse Fraser’s long-gone fans is the fact that a sequel to Encino Man is in talks. Encino Man was one of Fraser’s first big movies from in the early ‘90s. His co-star, Pauly Shore, recently spoke about the idea of a sequel. “If they want me to do it and the script was right and Brendan and Sean were on board and it made sense, I would do it for the fans!”

Did He and Leslie Mann Have a Secret Romance?

The two actors felt the heat on the set of George of the Jungle, but did it transcend the screen? Apparently, Mann had a real crush on Fraser. When asked which character she liked playing the most, Mann (who’s famously married to Judd Apatow) said Ursula from George of the Jungle.

Leslie Mann and Brendan Fraser on the set of George of the Jungle
Source: Walt Disney Pictures

“I had a huge crush on Brendan Fraser. He was like naked all day long, and I enjoyed that, and I was with Judd at the time!” she admitted. She said something similar in a different interview, too. Despite having been with Apatow while filming the 1997 movie, she still had a crush on her co-star.

He Kissed Her on the Lips at the Start of Every Shooting Day

Mann wasn’t ashamed to admit it either. And she actually married Apatow a month before George of the Jungle was released. “He was just delightful and funny, and I was supposed to fall in love with him, and so I just fell in love with him in real life,” she confessed.

Mann and Fraser share a laugh on the set of George of the Jungle.
Source: Walt Disney Pictures

“I was like, Judd, I love Brendan. And he was like, I know. Stop it. I’m like, really, I think that I love him. And I started getting really weird around him.” Mann also revealed that Fraser would greet her with a kiss on the lips before the day’s shooting.

The Incident That Ended the Daily Kisses

Saying he was “European or something,” he came up to give her a kiss every morning as she sat in her makeup chair. She got used to them, until one day Fraser chose the wrong moment to kiss her. Mann explained how she was eating oatmeal, and he crept up behind her to surprise her with a smooch.

Brendan Fraser and Leslie Mann ride an elephant in a scene from
Source: Getty Images

“And he went in to kiss me, and my lips had like a sticky oatmeal film on them… Never kissed me again after that.” The two were asked about it during a joint interview, and he said, “It was maple oatmeal. I don’t like maple syrup.”

His Wife Was Also in George of the Jungle

Fraser was married to actress Afton Smith for close to ten years. And funnily enough, the same movie Leslie Mann fell in love with Fraser was a movie Smith acted in (awkward…). Smith’s role wasn’t as significant as she would have liked, but it’s probably one of her most famous.

Brendan Fraser and wife Afton Smith arrives at the premiere of
Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images

The two had met in 1993, and married in 1997, the same year George of the Jungle came out. By 2007, the couple announced they were splitting. The divorce proved financially difficult for Fraser, who was even accused of fraud by Smith.

Their Eldest Son Has Autism

The two met at a barbecue at Winona Ryder’s house and the two immediately hit it off. Smith, a New York native, shares three children with Fraser: Griffin, Holden, and Leland. They all ended up staying with their mom after the divorce.

Brendan Fraser, wife Afton, and sons Holden and Griffin pose in a pumpkin patch.
Photo by Amy Graves/WireImage/Getty Images

Their eldest, Griffin, was diagnosed with autism, and his parents continually advocate awareness for autism. Smith published a book dedicated to Griffin, called Point to Happy: For Children on the Autism Spectrum. Despite the divorce, the exes have managed to maintain a close and caring friendship.

His Alimony Payments Hit a Wall

That said, there was a point in the divorce lawsuit where Smith accused him of fraud. Fraser was ordered to pay $900,000 each year in child support. He was able to pay the amount for the first few years, but eventually he hit a financial wall.

Afton Smith and Brendan Fraser attend an event.
Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage/Getty Images

In 2013, his lawyer filed a request to reduce his alimony due to a severe back injury he suffered when trying to move a tree that fell on top of his house during Hurricane Sandy. The reason for the request was that his injury impacted his potential movie earnings.

His Ex-Wife Accused Him of Fraud

With such an injury, his roles in films would be significantly reduced. Smith wasn’t buying it, though. She didn’t consider it a valid excuse and went so far as to accuse her ex-husband of fraud. Her claim: that he was hiding $9 million in movie contracts when they settled the divorce in 2009.

Brendan Fraser climbs the rock wall.
Photo by M. Caulfield/WireImage/Getty Images

It just so happened that Fraser suffered many physical injuries, and they all took a toll on his career… or lack thereof. The injuries started with his very first movie, 1991’s Dogfight – the movie where he was thrown into a pinball machine.

Bruised Ribs and Wrestling Plants

“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. “I think I bruised a rib.” But he said, “I can do it again. If you want, I’ll break it. You want me to do it again?” he was just happy to be on a set.

Fraser in a scene from Dogfight.
Source: YouTube

Crashing into things became Fraser’s movie signature. He was a big guy, good looking, unthreatening, and what directors loved was that he was always game. For Encino Man, the movie that put him on the map, his audition consisted of wrestling a plant without saying anything.

He Got Choked Out in The Mummy

Then, as he got more steady work, the injuries started to pile on. “I believe I probably was trying too hard, in a way that’s destructive,” Fraser now reflects. When filming The Mummy in 1999, he got “fully choked-out,” he said. “It was scary.”

Fraser has a noose around his neck in a still from The Mummy.
Source: YouTube

Filming a prison scene that involved a noose, he literally blacked out. “I regained consciousness and one of the EMTs was saying my name.” His body started to fall apart. Fraser said he was basically in and out of hospitals for about seven years.

Multiple Surgeries and Procedures

The later two Mummy films came out in 2001 and 2008, and during the last one, Fraser was “put together with tape and ice.” He was building an exoskeleton for himself everyday, he explained, to manage his already existing injuries and to protect his body.

Fraser leaps in a still from The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.
Source: Universal Studios

Still, he needed multiple surgeries: a partial knee replacement and some vocal cord repairs. He even needed a laminectomy – a last-resort surgery in which a portion of vertebral bone is removed. The actor said he needed to do that one twice. Then, there were procedures involving bolts to compress his spinal pads.

The Interview That Went Viral

Part of Fraser’s gradual return to the spotlight included his role in the series The Affair in 2016. But his appearance came as a shock to the show’s fans, who noticed – and commented – on how much the actor had changed.

Fraser is seen answering questions and looking rather awkward.
Source: YouTube

After The Affair’s third season began airing, Fraser gave his first interview in years, and it was an awkward one. He seemed sad and spoke in a whisper. The video went viral, and not just theories about his state, but memes started to surface. It was discovered later that his mother had died only days before that interview.

His Mother Died Days Before

“I buried my mom,” Fraser later said of that interview. “I think I was in mourning, and I didn’t know what that meant.” It had been a while since he had done any sort of press, and there he is all of a sudden, sitting on a stool in front of an audience, promoting a show he was barely been on.

A photo of Brendan Fraser’s mother.
Source: Twitter

“I wasn’t quite sure what the format was. And I felt like: Man, I got f***ing old. Damn, this is the way it’s done now?” A lot of things were going on at the time; it had been a bad decade.

It Was a Rough Decade for Him

There was the death of his mother, his divorce, and all the reboots he wasn’t being cast in. “I changed houses; I went through a divorce. Some kids were born. I mean, they were born, but they’re growing up.”

Brendan Fraser visits MTV's
Photo by Michael Loccisano/FilmMagic/Getty Images

He continued, “I was going through things that mold and shape you in ways that you’re not ready for until you go through them.” Then, of course, what we came to learn was the biggest reason for his leaving Hollywood – the groping incident.

What Happened to Brendan Fraser?

There was an alleged incident that Fraser had to endure, and it weighed heavily on him. During an in-depth and personal interview GQ, Fraser couldn’t bring himself to mention it. He called the journalist weeks later to say he had something he wanted to share but couldn’t the first time.

A portrait of Brendan Fraser.
Photo by Vera Anderson/WireImage/Getty Images

He said he was sorry — that he didn’t have “the courage to speak up for risk of humiliation, or damage to my career.” He chose to keep quiet about it for many years, and although some pieces had already been told, it was the first time he came out with it all.

The Summer of 2003

When he said he was “going through things” he referring to a time in his life that began in the summer of 2003, at the Beverly Hills Hotel. There was a luncheon for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (they host the Golden Globes).

Brendan Fraser during The 60th Annual Golden Globe Awards.
Photo by KMazur/WireImage/Getty Images

As Fraser was on his way out of the hotel, he was stopped by Philip Berk, the former president of the HFPA. In the crowded room, Berk reached out to shake Fraser’s hand.

The Moment He Was Groped

What happened next was recounted in Berk’s own memoir as well as reported by Sharon Waxman in The New York Times. What happened was he pinched Fraser’s butt. Well, at least according to Berk. Fraser, on the other hand, says it was more than a pinch.

Brendan Fraser / Philip Berk
Source: Getty Images

“His left hand reaches around, grabs my ass cheek, and one of his fingers touches me in the taint. And he starts moving it around.” Fraser told GQ that in that moment, he was stunned by panic and fear.

“I Felt Ill. I Felt Like a Little Kid”

Eventually, Fraser was able to remove Berk’s hand. “I felt ill. I felt like a little kid. I felt like there was a ball in my throat. I thought I was going to cry,” he said. As soon as it was over, he rushed out of the packed room, straight outside, and past a police officer.

Fraser talks to the press at an event.
Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images

He simply couldn’t bring himself to confess to what just happened. And so, he went home. There, he told his then wife, Afton, what had happened to him. “I felt like someone had thrown invisible paint on me,” he told GQ.

He Chose to Keep Quiet

Berk, who is still an HFPA member, sent an email to GQ, disputing Fraser’s account. “Mr. Fraser’s version is a total fabrication,” he wrote. In the time following the incident, Fraser mulled over whether or not to go public with it.

Brendan Fraser looks lost in thought.
Photo by Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

In the end, he chose not to. “I didn’t want to contend with how that made me feel, or it becoming part of my narrative,” he explained. But the memory of it, and the way it made him feel, never dissipated. It stuck with him.

Sorry Not Sorry

Fraser’s representatives asked the HFPA for a written apology. Berk asserted that he wrote a letter to Fraser after the incident, but that his apology “admitted no wrongdoing.” It was “the usual ‘If I’ve done anything that upset Mr. Fraser, it was not intended, and I apologize.’”

Philip Berk and actor Kevin Spacey speak onstage.
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

In other words, it was a sort of “sorry, not sorry” kind of apology – the kind that mean absolutely nothing. According to Fraser, the HFPA said they would never allow Berk in a room with the actor again. (Berk denied this, though).

He Blamed Himself

Nevertheless, Fraser “became depressed.” He went through a process that many women (and other victims of harassment) go through in similar situations. He started telling himself that he deserved what had happened to him.

Brendan Fraser presents at an awards show.
Photo by J.Sciulli/WireImage/Getty Images

“I was blaming myself and I was miserable,” he admitted. He was telling himself, ‘This is nothing; this guy reached around, and he copped a feel.’ He explained how that summer went on but that he can’t remember what he worked on next. He was in a stupor – a post traumatic sort of phase that was ultimately a blur.

It Was the Final Straw

For Fraser, that incident was the final piece – the thing that made him retreat. “It made me feel reclusive.” He also wondered if the HFPA blacklisted him. “I don’t know if this curried disfavor with the group, with the HFPA. But the silence was deafening.”

A portrait of Brendan Fraser.
Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

He couldn’t help but notice that he was no longer invited back to the Golden Globes. According to Berk, however, Fraser’s career “declined through no fault of ours.” If we were to believe Berk, it was all just coincidental that after 2003 – the year it happened – Fraser was no longer invited…

The Courage He Didn’t Have

The experience messed with Fraser’s sense of “who I was and what I was doing.” Work became something he put on the back burner. He felt as though something had been taken away from him. Eventually, the MeToo movement started, and he watched as all these women in the industry started speaking up.

Ashley Judd and Brendan Fraser during Wynonna Judd Press Event.
Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc/Getty Images

“I know Rose [McGowan], I know Ashley [Judd], I know Mira [Sorvino]—I’ve worked with them… I haven’t spoken to them in years, but they’re my friends. I watched this wonderful movement, these people with the courage to say what I didn’t have the courage to say.”

Frightened and Silent

It was in 2018 that the MeToo movement was in full swing, and that year Fraser remembers watching the Golden Globes on TV, seeing the actresses wearing black and the actors with their Time’s Up pins, showing their solidarity. He saw Berk in the room. He was there while Fraser wasn’t…

Brendan Fraser Sighting at LAX.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

“Am I still frightened? Absolutely,” Fraser told GQ. “Do I feel like I need to say something? Absolutely. Have I wanted to many, many times? Absolutely. Have I stopped myself? Absolutely.”

The Role Where He Punches Himself Out

In 2003, around the time that the incident happened, he was filming the movie Looney Tunes: Back in Action. He later explained why he took a role in which he played a stuntman who was actually Brendan Fraser’s stuntman.

Bugs Bunny, Jenna Elfman, Brendan Fraser, and Daffy Duck in a still from the film.
Source: Warner Bos.

The stuntman meets Brendan Fraser in the end and Brendan Fraser punches him out. He said that when the day came to shoot the punching scene, he wore the flashiest clothes he could find to play himself. “It was my vision of the worst version of myself. And I get to deck me.”

The Reason He Took It

Fraser said he only realized later that the main reason he took the role was because “at that time, I think I wanted to knock myself out. I wanted to take the piss out of myself before someone else would, ’cause I had it in my head that I had it coming.”

Daffy Duck and Brendan Fraser in a scene from the movie.
Source: Warner Bos.

Another part of his self hatred came from the fact that he didn’t make the cut for the upcoming Superman movie (of 2006). He felt as though he wasn’t worthy of being Superman nor of being himself. It was a feeling that ate at him as the decade wore on.

His Life and Career Slowly Deteriorated

He went on to make movies he was less and less proud of, all while his body deteriorated more and more. Then, his marriage fell apart. Throughout it all, he couldn’t help but think about what happened to him in the summer of 2003.

Fraser talks to the press.
Photo by Gary Miller/Getty Images

The phone stopped ringing in his career, and he was asking himself why. “There’s many reasons, but was this one of them? I think it was.” He told GQ that this was why he ultimately disappeared. He explained that he didn’t have thick skin – the kind needed in Hollywood. “I didn’t feel that I belonged.”

The Drama Before the Comedies

Fraser wasn’t only in comedies during the ‘90s. In 1992, he starred alongside Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Chris O’Donnell in School Ties. He played a Jewish quarterback fighting for his place in an anti-Semitic boarding school.

The cast of School Ties poses on set.
Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives/Getty Images

School Ties marked a new generation of leading men – the next The Outsiders. Fraser was the film’s breakout discovery. But as the decade rolled on, he took more traditional leading-man parts, where he found he had more success with his shirt off. “I look at myself then and I just see a walking steak,” he later said.

He Likes the Oddball Character

Throughout Fraser’s career, he’s played the character who is as overwhelmed with everything as the viewer is (George of the Jungle, Blast from the Past, Encino Man, etc.). He tended to gravitate to these characters from the earliest days of his career.

Brendan Fraser as George of the Jungle squares off with a gorilla.
Source: Walt Disney Pictures

“I’m intrigued by characters who are naive, who need to find the road, who are essentially fish out of water,” he said in 1997. Fraser added that he enjoys becoming these characters almost as much as audiences enjoy watching them.

He Needed That G.I. Joe Cameo

In the middle of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, there’s a part filled with stunts and skills, in which Fraser shows up as Sgt. Stone. Arriving on a dirt bike, he is around to comment on the newest recruits. Despite the small part, Fraser fought for it.

Fraser in a still from G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Source: YouTube

Fraser’s connections with the director, Stephen Sommers, who directed Fraser in the first two Mummy movies, helped him out. But Fraser was insistent. He begged producer Bob Ducsay, “Can I have a job, please? I will wash your car; I will walk your dog.” It worked.

The Question That Brought Him to Tears

Recently, Fraser has been making a comeback and has even landed some killer roles. In a Q&A at Megacon, a fan praised Fraser for his bravery in speaking out about his harassment story. Fraser was visibly touched as the crowd erupted into applause.

Fraser holds red roses during an interview at Megacon.
Source: Twitter

The fan asked Fraser if there was a particular moment where he knew he made the right decision to come back. The actor took a few seconds to answer, as he was crying. “Are you ready for this? It was when I got that horse,” Fraser finally answered.

The Horse That Saved Him

Fraser was referring to the horse he bought for his son with autism. The horse’s name was Pecas, and he met the beautiful animal while working on the History channel show, Texas Rising. Fraser bonded with the animal and decided to take him to his farm.

Fraser eats a carrot out of his horse’s mouth.
Source: Twitter

“He looked like he needed help,” Fraser recalled, as though the horse was saying to him, ‘Get me out of here, man.’ Sadly, Pecas has passed away since that interview, and although his son is surely sad over it, the horse had only a positive impact on the Fraser family.

He Was Always the New Kid

Fraser was born on December 3, 1968, in Indianapolis, Indiana. His parents, Peter and Carole Fraser, were both Canadian citizens. Peter worked with the Canadian Tourism Commission, and so the family was regularly on the move.

Young Patton Oswalt and Brendan Fraser.
Source: Reddit

Fraser lived in Toronto, Amsterdam, Detroit, Cincinnati, Seattle, and London, as well as other places. Fraser says he enrolled in a new school pretty much every other year, which is hard for any kid. But he later summed it up as an existence that prepared him for the nomadic life of an actor. “You become more resilient,” he said.

He’s an Avid Archer

Fraser has taken up some hobbies, such as photography and archery. But archery has been something that he has really taken to. He’s no Geena Davis (who nearly made the 2000 Olympic team for archery), but the actor is quite good at the sport.

Fraser is practicing his archery.
Source: Facebook

In 2014, he told Radio Times that he picked it up after working on a film project about William Tell. “I picked up an English longbow and went out in the backyard, started firing at tree stumps, was horrible at it, lost a lot of expensive arrows, and it kind of just started from there,” he said.

A Teddy Bear on Set

Leslie Grace, who played Batgirl, has confirmed the consensus that Fraser is a wonderful person. The two worked together on the HBO Max movie Batgirl, where Fraser stars as the supervillain Firefly. Behind the scenes, Fraser was such a “teddy bear,” she shared.

Brendan celebrates his birthday on the set of Batgirl.
Source: Twitter

“He is one of the nicest people that I’ve ever met” the actress attested. Batgirl is part of what is now being referred to as the Brenaissance – Fraser’s comeback to Hollywood. 52-year-old Fraser is also set to be in Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon with Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Playing a 600 lb. Hermit in The Whale

Fraser is going to star in Darren Aronofsky’s film The Whale. He may have gained weight over the years, but he’s not 600 pounds. And so, he has to put on more weight for the role. Fraser is playing a gay man named Charlie who lives in a Mormon area in Idaho.

Brendan Fraser attends the
Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage/Getty Images

Samuel D. Hunter adapted the film from his 2012 Off-Broadway play of the same name. Fans are already waiting for the upcoming awards for Fraser, hoping the gig will be his Oscar-worthy comeback.

At the premiere for The Whale, at the Venice Film Festival, people were so impressed with Fraser’s performance that they gave him a six-minute standing ovation. Not too shabby…

Remembering Encino Man

It’s debatable, but Encino Man might just be the most popular of all Brendan Fraser’s movies. The 1992 film became a cult classic, and although the plot is ridiculous, the trio – Fraser, Pauly Shore, and Sean Astin – made it work. It’s a preposterous concept for a movie.

Brendan Fraser and Sean Astin in a still from Encino Man.
Source: Buena Vista Pictures

Encino Man transformed Shore from MTV personality to movie star, and it established Fraser’s talent for being a leading man. A writer, Anna Bogutskaya, wrote in a 2021 article that Encino Man was the first in “Fraser’s Himbo Trilogy,” as she called it…

Fraser’s Himbo Trilogy

“Himbo,” of course would be the male version of a “bimbo” and the other two movies in the trilogy are George of the Jungle and Blast from the Past. In all three, Fraser plays “a simple hunk who is unaware of his own buffness” who comes to the modern world “goofy and wide-eyed.”

Astin, Fraser, and Shore in a still from the film.
Source: Buena Vista Pictures

Encino Man was made by two young filmmakers, Les Mayfield (director) and George Zaloom (writer/producer). Zaloom came up with the idea for Encino Man. At the time, they were working on a TV special on Indiana Jones.

A Post-It Note and a Pool

An associate producer told them, “I found this guy. He’s a college professor out in Encino. He’s doing a dig out there.” They went out to shoot the dig, and somebody joked, “What is he going to find — Encino Man?” Zaloom exclaimed: “Encino Man!” and wrote it on a yellow Post-it.

Shore and Astin find the Encino man in a scene from the film.
Source: Reddit

He had it on his wall and stared at it for weeks. “What if they did find Encino Man?” he said to himself. It was the Indiana Jones doc and a past memory of digging up a pool in Zaloom’s backyard that inspired the concept of Encino Man.

Adding the Pauly Shore-isms

From the get-go, Shore was intended to be one of the stars as he was blowing up on MTV at the time. At first, they wanted him to play the caveman character, but Shore told them, “I’m not playing the caveman because cavemen don’t speak. They grunt. And I have a whole kind of language.”

Pauly Shore drinks out of the slushy dispenser in a scene from the movie.
Source: YouTube

The screenwriter ended up putting Paul Shore-isms into the script, like “nugs” and “wheez.” Not only did Shore change the dialogue, but he also changed the name. There were supposed to be two nerdy guys that find a caveman. But then Shore, who played Stoney, became Dave’s (Sean Astin’s character’s) crazy sidekick friend.

Getting the Then Unknown Brendan Fraser

Casting Link, Fraser’s caveman character, was difficult. IMDb claims Jim Carrey and Nicolas Cage were on the list, but Zaloom and Mayfield don’t remember that. They did, however, consider Ben Stiller. Then Fraser entered the picture and nailed it.

Brendan Fraser as Link from the Encino Man.
Source: Buena Vista Pictures

The filmmakers had to tell Stiller that they didn’t want him for the part in the end. Fraser was a 22-year-old unknown who in 1990, took his mom’s car and moved to Hollywood because he was “tired of waiting tables, parking cars, and selling balloons.”

He Needed Some Convincing

But Fraser didn’t want to play a caveman; he wanted serious roles. Fraser once said he “thought about eight times about Encino Man,” and eventually agreed to do both School Ties and Encino Man back to back. The filmmakers practically begged him to do Encino Man.

A portrait of Brendan Fraser.
Photo by mikel roberts/Sygma/Getty Images

“When I saw his screen test, I was like, “Holy s**t,” Shore recalled. “This guy became the caveman!” Still, Mayfield had to convince Fraser to take the role, and he finally said, “All right, I’ll give it a shot.” The rest is history!