More than an Actor: Biography of Dan Butler the Activist

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photo by Alan Light, Dan Butler (1995)CC BY 2.0

Dan Butler, who goes by the full name of Daniel Eugene Butler, is a well-known American actor and playwright. He is famed for his successful role as Bob “Bulldog” Briscoe in the famous television sitcom Frasier. Among his other significant achievements is Art in Roseanne (1991-1992) and as the voice-over of Mr. Simmons on the TV show Hey Arnold (1997-2002) that was on-aired on Nickelodeon. 

Education and Personal Life 

Dan Butler was born and raised in Indiana to Andrew Butler and his wife. Dan’s father was a pharmacist, and his mother was a housewife. He studied drama at Indiana University and graduated in 1975. He received the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship, which was sponsored by the Kennedy Center. Dan further went on to get training at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco for two years (1976-1978). 

Dan Butler married his partner and love of his, Richard Waterhouse. They live in Vermont. Butler announced his sexual preference to his family during his early 20s. As an ode to his coming out to his family, he penned down a one-man show named “The Only Thing Worse You Could Have Told Me.” This play had ten characters portraying the process of understanding what gay means. It was also nominated in the Outstanding One-Person Show in 1995 for the Drama Desk Award

Career 

Dan Butler grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was the son of a pharmacist and a homemaker, and as a child, he showed early interest in acting as he gathered his neighbor kids to put on little vaudevilles. In high school, he pursued his penchant for the stage and got lead roles in various student plays. He was also a sporty guy and a class president – an all-around package.

When he graduated, he pursued acting in college, so he enrolled as a drama student at Purdue University Fort Wayne in 1973. He transferred to San Jose State University but dropped out after receiving the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship sponsored by the Kennedy Center. From 1976 to 1978, he studied acting at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

His first TV appearance was in 1982 as a morgue attendant in an episode of Remington Steele. Meanwhile, he first appeared on film as a SWAT member in The Manhattan Project (1986) and as Jimmy Price, a technician in Manhunter (1986). Five years later, he portrayed Roden in The Silence of The Lambs. This distinction is shared with actor Frankie Faison.

Dan Butler is famous for his break out role in the famous sitcom Frasier. He has a recurring appearance in the show except the ones airing between 1993 and 2004. His character of Bob “Bulldog” Briscoe was an unpredictable and rough sports presenter whose show followed the lead role, Frasier’s broadcast at the radio station. 

Dan also played two different roles in the Hannibal Lecter franchise. His first appearance was of Jimmy Price, who was a technician in the movie Manhunter. The second one was of Roden in The Silence of The Lambs in 1991. 

You can also watch Butler in the movie Enemy of the State as NSA Director Admiral Shaffer. He produced and starred in the faux-documentary called Karl Rove, I Love You in 2006. Moreover, he had also co-written and co-directed this documentary. His other notable performances include Prayers for Bobby and Longtime Companion. 

Beyond the screen, Butler has left an indelible mark on the stage. In 2018, he graced Broadway as Lenin in the revival of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties. Recent highlights also feature his compelling portrayal of Truman Capote in the American Repertory Theater’s 2017 production of Rob Roth’s Warhol/Capote and the character Jack in the 2013 Off-Broadway rendition of Conor McPherson’s The Weir. Through a myriad of roles, Butler’s career resonates as a testament to his multifaceted talent across various entertainment platforms.

Featured Film Roles 

  • Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  • Enemy of the State (1998)
  • Cal’s boss Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)
  • Mr. Kirkpatrick in Chu & Blossom (2014)
  • All my Life (2020) as Dr. Alan Mendelson 
  • Blonde (2021) 

Guest Appearances 

  • Leg Work (1987) in the episode Blind Trust 
  • Monsters (1990) in the episode named A New Woman 
  • Quantum Leap (1991) in the episode Southern Comforts – August 4, 1961
  • Columbo (1992), in the episode No Time to Die 
  • Life Goes On (1993) in the episode Incident on Main
  • The X-Files (1995) in the episode Die Hand Die Verletzt 
  • House (2006), in the episode Distractions 

Activism

The LGBTQ+ community has strong supporters in the world of Hollywood and beyond. For decades, celebrities have taken stands to support LGBTQ+ rights by supporting causes like same-sex marriage or legislation for transgender people. While some of them are simply using their platforms to call out injustices and discrimination, some advocates are members of the LGBTQ community themselves, so that they can understand firsthand the struggles.

Among the various gay celebrities who champion LGBTQ rights include Dan Butler, a name synonymous with the charismatic “Bulldog” from the iconic television series “Frasier.” Yet behind the scripted lines, Butler advocates for the gay community through his play – as a true actor should do.

During the run of Frasier, Butler chose to publicly come out as a gay man in a uniquely dramatic way—through a one-man play he penned himself, titled The Only Worse Thing You Could Have Told Me. The show premiered to glowing reviews in Los Angeles in 1994, and the praise continued when Butler brought it to New York the following year.

This semi-autobiographical play unfolds through fourteen vignettes featuring various characters, all navigating the complexities of being gay. From a macho jock grappling with his best friend’s revelation to an ACT-UP demonstrator, an opera enthusiast, and an AIDS worker entangled in a poignant love story, the characters offer a diverse array of situations and experiences.

In 2000, Butler joined other public figures in opposing California’s Proposition 22 (the Knight Initiative), which aimed to define marriage strictly between a man and a woman. Additionally, he actively participated in fundraisers for AIDS charities, including a record-breaking event in his home state of Indiana in 2002. He has also dedicated his time to volunteer service, notably as a counselor on the Trevor Helpline, offering support to gay youth facing crises or contemplating suicide.

Since the mid-1990s, he has been in a stable relationship with acting teacher Richard Waterhouse. Their connection deepened after Waterhouse’s loss to AIDS, prompting initial feelings of guilt for falling in love so soon after the bereavement.

Conclusion

Dan Butler, best known for his amazing role as Bob “Bulldog” Briscoe in the sitcom Frasier has also played many roles in other films and shows. In addition to working in the films, Dan also wrote a one-man show that played in various cities. Due to this remarkable show, he was nominated for the 1995 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show

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