Brian Dennehy

Last updated

Brian Dennehy
Dennehy in 2009
Brian Manion Dennehy

(1938-07-09)July 9, 1938
DiedApril 15, 2020(2020-04-15) (aged 81)
Alma mater Columbia University
Years active1965–2020
Judith Scheff
(m. 1959;div. 1987)

Jennifer Arnott
(m. 1988)
Children5; including Elizabeth Dennehy

Brian Manion Dennehy (July 9, 1938 – April 15, 2020) was an American actor of stage, television, and film. He won two Tony Awards, an Olivier Award, and a Golden Globe, and received six Primetime Emmy Award nominations. Dennehy had roles in over 180 films and in many television and stage productions. His film roles included First Blood (1982), Gorky Park (1983), Silverado (1985), Cocoon (1985), F/X (1986), Presumed Innocent (1990), Romeo + Juliet (1996), and Knight of Cups (2015). Dennehy won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film for his role as Willy Loman in the television film Death of a Salesman (2000).


According to Variety , Dennehy was "perhaps the foremost living interpreter" of playwright Eugene O'Neill’s works on stage and screen. He had a decades long relationship with Chicago's Goodman Theatre where much of his O'Neill work originated. [1] He also regularly played Canada's Stratford Festival, especially in works by William Shakespeare and Samuel Beckett. [2] He once gave credit for his award-winning performances to the play's authors: "When you walk with giants, you learn how to take bigger steps." [3] Dennehy was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2010.

Early life

Brian Manion Dennehy [4] was born on July 9, 1938, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the son of Hannah (Manion) and Edward Dennehy, a wire service editor for the Associated Press. [5] He had two brothers, Michael and Edward. [6] [7] He was of Irish ancestry and was raised Catholic. [8] [9] The family relocated to Long Island, New York, where Dennehy attended Chaminade High School in the village of Mineola. [10]

He entered Columbia University in New York City on a football scholarship in the fall of 1956. He interrupted his college education to spend five years in the U.S. Marines. He was stationed in the U.S., Japan, and Korea. He returned to Columbia in 1960 and graduated in 1965 with a B.A. in history. While acting in regional theater he supported his family by working blue-collar jobs including driving a taxi and bartending. He hated his brief stint as a stockbroker for Merrill Lynch in their Manhattan office in the mid 1970s. [11] He later described how working odd hours allowed him to attend matinee theater performances that provided his acting education: "I never went to acting school–I was a truck driver and I used to go see everything I could see–Wednesday afternoons." [12] [lower-alpha 1] In the 1970s, stage performances in New York led to television and film work. [16]



Dennehy was primarily known as a dramatic actor. His breakthrough role was as the overzealous sheriff Will Teasle in First Blood (1982) opposite Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo. [17]

His earlier films included several comedies, like Semi-Tough with Burt Reynolds (in which he portrayed a pro football player), Foul Play with Chevy Chase, and 10 with Dudley Moore (as a Manzanillo bartender). He later portrayed a corrupt sheriff in the western Silverado and an alien in Cocoon , both released in 1985.

Dennehy had memorable supporting parts in such films as Split Image (1982), Legal Eagles (1986), F/X: Murder By Illusion (1986), Presumed Innocent (1990), F/X2: The Deadly Art of Illusion (1991) and Prophet of Evil (1993).

Dennehy gradually became a valuable character actor but also achieved leading-man status in the thriller Best Seller (1987) co-starring James Woods. He also starred in the Peter Greenaway film The Belly of an Architect , for which he won the Best Actor Award at the 1987 Chicago International Film Festival. Commenting upon this unusual venture, Dennehy said, "I've been in a lot of movies but this is the first film I've made."

He went on to star as Harrison in the Australian film The Man from Snowy River II in 1988.

One of his most well-known roles came in the 1995 Chris Farley-David Spade comedy Tommy Boy as Big Tom Callahan. He also was reunited with his 10 co-star Bo Derek in Tommy Boy, in which she played his wife.

Dennehy had a voice role in the animated movie Ratatouille as Django, father of the rat chef Remy. He appeared as the superior officer of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in the 2008 cop drama Righteous Kill and as the father of Russell Crowe in the 2010 suspense film The Next Three Days .

Dennehy starred as Clarence Darrow in Alleged , a film based on the Scopes Monkey Trial, the famous court battle over the teaching of evolution in American public schools. [18]


Dennehy's early professional acting career included small guest roles in such 1970s and 1980s series as Kojak , Lou Grant , Dallas , Dynasty , and Hunter . He also appeared in an episode of Miami Vice during the 1987–88 season.

Dennehy in 2003 Brian Dennehy DF-SD-05-12671.jpg
Dennehy in 2003

Dennehy portrayed Sergeant Ned T. "Frozen Chosen" Coleman in the television movie A Rumor of War (1980) opposite Brad Davis. He continued to appear in such high-profile television films as Skokie (1981), Split Image (1982), Day One (1989), and A Killing in a Small Town (1990) opposite Barbara Hershey. He also played the title role in HBO's Teamster Boss: The Jackie Presser Story .

Dennehy had a lead role as fire chief/celebrity dad Leslie "Buddy" Krebs in the short-lived 1982 series Star of the Family . Despite his star power, that show was cancelled after a half-season. He starred in the crime drama Jack Reed TV movies.

Dennehy was nominated for Emmy Awards six times for his television movies. In 1992, he was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie for his performance as John Wayne Gacy in To Catch a Killer , and he was nominated that same year in a different category, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie, for The Burden of Proof. Dennehy's other Emmy nominations were for his work in A Killing in a Small Town, Murder in the Heartland (1993) and his work in the Showtime cable TV movie Our Fathers (2005), which was about the Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. In 2000, Dennehy was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie for a television presentation for his performance as Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman which he had performed on Broadway. While not gaining the actor an Emmy win, the performance did, however, win him a Golden Globe Award. He also appeared as a recurring character in the NBC sitcom Just Shoot Me! .

A cartoon version of Dennehy appeared in the 1999 film South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut as well as in an episode of The Simpsons .[ which? ][ citation needed ]

In January 2007, he starred in the episode "Scheherazade" of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as a retired criminal who wants to reconnect with his daughter and admit his crimes before dying of a terminal disease thus eventually clearing a wrongfully imprisoned inmate. In April 2008, Dennehy guest-starred as a Teamster boss in "Sandwich Day", an episode of the TV series 30 Rock . He guest-starred in a 2009 episode of Rules of Engagement as the father of the main character, Jeff. [19]

Dennehy starred as Elizabeth Keen's grandfather on the NBC series The Blacklist since the third season until his death from sepsis. He is replaced by actor Ron Raines during the show's eighth season.

In 2015 Dennehy co-starred in the Amazon Studios pilot Cocked with Jason Lee, Dreama Walker, Diora Baird, and Sam Trammell.

Dennehy also narrated many television programs [20] including the Canadian-Irish docudrama Death or Canada . [21] [22]


Dennehy won two Tony Awards, both times for Best Lead Actor in a Play. His first win was for Death of a Salesman (for which he also won a Laurence Olivier Award for the production's London run), in 1999, and the second was for Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night in 2003. Both productions were directed by Robert Falls and were originally produced at the Goodman Theatre company in Chicago, Illinois. His acting in the "Salesman" was called "the performance of Dennehy's career."

On stage, Dennehy frequently performed in the Chicago theater world, and made his Broadway debut in 1995 in Brian Friel's Translations . In 1999, he was the first male performer to be voted the Sarah Siddons Award for his work in Chicago theater. He made a return to Broadway in 2007 as Matthew Harrison Brady in Inherit the Wind opposite Christopher Plummer, then returned again opposite Carla Gugino in a 2009 revival of Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms .

In fall 1992, he played the lead role of Hickey in Robert Falls's production of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. [23]

In 2008, Dennehy appeared at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, appearing in All's Well That Ends Well as the King of France, [3] and a double bill of plays, Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape and Eugene O'Neill's Hughie , where Dennehy reprised the role of Erie Smith. [24] In 2010, he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame. [25] In December 2010, he returned to Ireland to play Bull McCabe in the Olympia Theatre of Dublin's stage version of John B. Keane's The Field . [23] [26] [27]

In 2011, Dennehy returned to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in the role of Sir Toby Belch in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night . He also played Max in Harold Pinter's The Homecoming , the first Pinter work to be produced there. [28]

In April through June 2012, he played the role of Larry Slade in the Eugene O'Neill play The Iceman Cometh at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, [29] which he reprised in 2015 when the production, with most of the Goodman Theater production cast, was revived at the BAM Harvey Theater in Brooklyn, New York, New York. [30]

Personal life and death

Dennehy enlisted in the United States Marine Corps from 1958 to 1963, including a brief stint on Okinawa. In a 1989 interview, he described being hurt in combat and in 1993, he told an interviewer he had served in Vietnam. In 1999, he apologized for misrepresenting his military record. [31]

Dennehy married for the first time while in the Marines in the early 1960s. Before he finished college he and his first wife had three daughters. [11] Two of them became actresses, including Elizabeth Dennehy. [32] After his first marriage ended in divorce in 1987, he married Jennifer Arnott, an Australian, in 1988, and they had two children, a boy and a girl. [4]

Dennehy died on April 15, 2020, of cardiac arrest due to sepsis [2] [4] [33] in New Haven, Connecticut. [34] He was surrounded by Arnott and his five children. [4]



1977 Looking for Mr. Goodbar The Surgeon
1977 Semi-Tough T.J. Lambert
1978 F.I.S.T. Frank Vasco
1978 Foul Play Fergie
1979 Butch and Sundance: The Early Days O.C. Hanks
1979 10 Don The Bartender
1980 Little Miss Marker Herbie
1982 Split Image Kevin Stetson
1982 First Blood Sheriff Will Teasle
1983 Never Cry Wolf Rosie Little
1983 Gorky Park William Kirwill
1984 Finders Keepers Mayor Frizzoli
1984 The River Rat 'Doc' Cole
1985 Cocoon Walter
1985 Silverado Sheriff Cobb
1985 Twice in a Lifetime Nick
1986 F/X Detective Leo McCarthy
1986The Check Is in the MailRichard Jackson
1986 Legal Eagles C.J. Cavanaugh
1987 The Belly of an Architect Stourley Kracklite
1987 Best Seller Lieutenant Dennis Meechum
1988 The Man from Snowy River II Harrison
1988 Miles from Home Frank Roberts, Sr.
1988 Cocoon: The Return WalterUncredited role
1989 Indio Whytaker
1989 Seven Minutes  [ de ]Wagner
1990 Blue Heat Frank Dalyaka The Last of the Finest
1990 Presumed Innocent Raymond Horgan
1991 In Broad Daylight Ken McElroy
1991 F/X2 Leo McCarthy
1992 Gladiator Jimmy Horn
1994Jackaboy Blue'Guggles' McMillian
1995 Tommy Boy Tom 'Big Tom' Callahan II
1995 The Stars Fell on Henrietta Dave 'Big Dave' McDermot
1996 Romeo + Juliet Ted Montague
1999Out of the ColdDavid Bards
1999Silicon TowersTom Warner
2000 Dish Dogs Frost
2001 Summer Catch John Schiffner
2002 Stolen Summer Father Kelly
2002Code Yellow: Hospital at Ground ZeroNarrator
2002Drawing First BloodHimselfShort
2004 She Hate Me Chairman Billy Church
2005 Assault on Precinct 13 Jasper O'Shea
2005Tommy Boy: Behind the LaughterHimselfShort
2005 10th and Wolf Agent Horvath
2006 Everyone's Hero Babe Ruth Voice
2006 The Ultimate Gift Gus
2007 Ratatouille DjangoVoice
2007Welcome to ParadiseBobby Brown
2007 War Eagle, Arkansas Pop
2008Cat CityHarold Vogessor
2008 Righteous Kill Lieutenant J.D. Hingus
2010 Every Day Ernie
2010 Meet Monica Velour Pop Pop
2010 The Next Three Days George Brennan
2010 Alleged Clarence Darrow
2011 The Big Year Raymond Harris
2012Twelfth NightSir Toby Belch
2015 Knight of Cups Joseph
2018 The Seagull Sorin
2018 Tag Mr. Cilliano, Randy's FatherUncredited
2018 The Song of Sway Lake Hal Sway
2019 Driveways Del
2019 Master Maggie [35] HimselfShort
2019 3 Days with Dad Bob Mills
2020 Son of the South GrandfatherPosthumous release
TBALong Day JourneyPost-production, Posthumous release; Final film role

Television films

1977BumpersErnie Stapp
1977Johnny, We Hardly Knew YeLongshoreman
1977 It Happened at Lakewood Manor Fire Chief
1978 A Real American Hero Buford Pusser
1978 Ruby and Oswald George Paulsen
1978 A Death in Canaan Barney Parsons
1979 Dummy Ragoti
1979 The Jericho Mile Dr. D
1979Silent Victory: The Kitty O'Neil StoryMr. O'Neil
1980 A Rumor of War Sergeant Ned Coleman
1980The Seduction of Miss LeonaBliss Dawson
1981 Skokie Chief Arthur Buchanan
1981Fly Away HomeTim Arnold
1983I Take These MenPhil Zakarian
1983 Blood Feud Edward Grady Partin
1984 Off Sides (Pigs vs. Freaks) Sergeant Cheever
1986Acceptable RisksDon Sheppard
1987 The Lion of Africa Sam Marsh
1988A Father's RevengePaul Hobart
1989 Day One General Leslie Groves
1989 Perfect Witness James Falcon
1990 A Killing in a Small Town Ed Reivers
1990Rising SonGus Robinson
1989 Pride and Extreme Prejudice Bruno Morenz
1991 In Broad Daylight Len Rowan
1992 The Diamond Fleece Lieutenant Merritt Outlaw
1992 Teamster Boss: The Jackie Presser Story Jackie Presser
1992 To Catch a Killer John Wayne Gacy
1992 The Burden of Proof Dixon Hartnell
1992Deadly MatrimonySergeant Jack Reed
1993Foreign AffairsChuck Mumpson
1993Prophet of Evil: The Ervil LeBaron StoryErvil LeBaronFilm [Hearst Entertainment INC]
1993Final AppealPerry Sundquist
1993 Jack Reed: Badge of Honor Sergeant Jack Reed
1993 Murder in the Heartland John McCarthur
1994Leave of AbsenceSam
1994Midnight MovieJames Boyce
1994Jack Reed: A Search for JusticeSergeant Jack Reed
1995Jack Reed: One of Our OwnSergeant Jack Reed
1995 Shadow of a Doubt Charlie Sloan
1996Jack Reed: A Killer Among UsSergeant Jack Reed
1996Jack Reed: Death and VengeanceSergeant Jack Reed
1996 A Season in Purgatory Gerald Bradley
1996Undue InfluencePaul Madriani
1997 Indefensible: The Truth About Edward Brannigan Eddie Brannigan
1998 Voyage of Terror U.S. President
1998 Thanks of a Grateful Nation Senator Riegle
1999 Netforce Lowell Davidson
1999 Sirens Lieutenant Denby
1999 Too Rich: The Secret Life of Doris Duke Louis Bromfield
2000 Fail Safe General Bogan
2000 Death of a Salesman Willy Loman
2001Warden of Red RockSheriff Church
2001Three Blind MiceMatthew Hope
2002 A Season on the Brink Bobby Knight
2003 The Crooked E: The Unshredded Truth About Enron Mr. Blue
2003 The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone Tom Stone
2004 Category 6: Day of Destruction Andy Goodman
2005 Our Fathers Father Dominic Spagnolia
2005 The Exonerated Gary Gauger
2007 Marco Polo Kublai Khan
2013 The Challenger Disaster Chairman William Rogers
2015The Ultimate LegacyGus Caldwellhallmark movie
2017A Very Merry Toy StoreJoe Haggarty

Television series

1977 Kojak Peter ConnorEpisode: "The Godson"
1977 Serpico JodyEpisode: "Sanctuary"
1977 Lanigan's Rabbi Burton TreeEpisode: "Corpse of the Year"
1977 Police Woman BurrowsEpisode: "Shadow of Doubt"
1977 Lou Grant WilsonEpisode: "Nazi"
1977 M*A*S*H M.P. Sergeant Ernie ConnorsEpisode: "Souvenirs"
1977 Lucan FisherEpisode: "Listen to the Heart Beat"
1977 The Fitzpatricks Coach HatfieldEpisode: "Superman"
1978 Pearl Sgt. Otto Chain3 episodes
1978 Dallas Luther FrickEpisode: "Winds of Vengeance"
1978 The Tony Randall Show Brian Sr.Episode: "Bobby and Brian"
1979 Big Shamus, Little Shamus Arnie Sutter2 episodes
1979 Knots Landing James CargillEpisode: "Chance of a Lifetime"
1981 Dynasty D.A. Jake Dunham 5 episodes
1981 Darkroom RolandEpisode: "Make-Up"
1982 Star of the Family Leslie Krebs10 episodes
1984 Cagney & Lacey Michael MacGruderEpisode: "The Bounty Hunter"
1984 Hunter Dr. BolinEpisode: "Hunter"
1985 Evergreen Matthew Malone3 episodes
1985 The Last Place on Earth Frederick Cook 2 episodes
1985 Tall Tales & Legends Buffalo BillEpisode: "Annie Oakley"
1987 Miami Vice Reverend Billy Bob ProverbEpisode: "Amen...Send Money"
1987 Faerie Tale Theatre King Neptune (Narrator)Voice, Episode: "The Little Mermaid"
1994 Birdland Dr. Brian McKenzie4 episodes
1996 Dead Man's Walk Major Chvallie2 episodes
1996 Nostromo Joshua C. Holyrod4 episodes
1998–2003 Just Shoot Me Red Finch4 episodes
2001 The Fighting Fitzgeralds Fitzgerald10 episodes
2005 The West Wing Senator Rafe FramhagenEpisode: "Ninety Miles Away"
2006 The 4400 Mitch BaldwinEpisode: "Blink"
2007 Law and Order: Special Victims Unit Judson TierneyEpisode: "Scheherezade"
2007 Masters of Science Fiction BedzykEpisode: "The Discarded"
2008 30 Rock Mickey JEpisode: "Sandwich Day"
2009 Rules of Engagement RoyEpisode: "Dad's Visit"
2010 Rizzoli & Isles Detective Kenny LeahyEpisode: "Boston Strangler Redux"
2012 The Good Wife Bucky Stabler2 episodes
2013 The Big C Mr. TolkeyEpisode: "The Finale"
2015 Public Morals Joe Patton8 episodes
2016–2020 The Blacklist Dominic Wilkinson9 episodes
2017 Hap and Leonard Sheriff Valentine Otis6 episodes
2020 Penny Dreadful: City of Angels Jerome TownsendEpisode: "Sing, Sing, Sing" (dedicated to Dennehy's memory)

Video games

2007 Ratatouille Django
2012 Kinect Fun Labs: Kinect Rush – A Disney Pixar Adventures: Snapshot Django

Awards and nominations

YearAssociationCategoryNominated workResult
1990 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie A Killing in a Small TownNominated
1992 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie The Burden of ProofNominated
1992 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie To Catch a KillerNominated
1993 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Murder in the HeartlandNominated
1994 CableACE Awards Best Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Foreign AffairsWon
1997 Satellite Awards Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film A Season of PurgatoryNominated
1999 Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Actor in a Play Death of a SalesmanWon
1999 Satellite Awards Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Thanks of a Grateful NationNominated
1999 Tony Awards Best Actor in a Play Death of a SalesmanWon
2000 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Death of a SalesmanNominated
2001 Golden Globe Awards Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film Death of a SalesmanWon
2001 Producers Guild Awards Outstanding Producer of Long-Form Television Death of a SalesmanWon
2001 Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie Death of a SalesmanWon
2003 Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Actor in a Play Long Day's Journey Into NightNominated
2003 Tony Awards Best Actor in a Play Long Day's Journey Into NightWon
2005 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Our FathersNominated
2005 Satellite Awards Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Our FathersNominated


  1. Some sources say Dennehy attended or earned a degree at the Yale School of Drama. [1] [13] Nothing similar appears in Dennehy's New York Times obituary, [4] and Yale publications that routinely identify graduates do not identify Dennehy that way. [14] [15] Nor is Yale mentioned in the interview published in Columbia College Today that discusses his early years at length. [11] Dennehy once described the decade following his graduation from Columbia without mentioning Yale: "From 1965 to 1974 I served the best possible apprenticeship for an actor. I learned firsthand how a truck driver lives, what a bartender does, how a salesman thinks. I had to make a life inside those jobs, not just pretend." [9]

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  2. 1 2 Jones, Chris (April 16, 2020). "Brian Dennehy, a giant of Chicago and America's stages, is dead at 81". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved April 16, 2020.
  3. 1 2 Ouzonian, Richard (June 21, 2008). "Life of Brian". Toronto Star. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Taylor, Derrick Bryson (April 16, 2020). "Brian Dennehy Dies; Tony Award-Winning Actor Was 81". New York Times. Retrieved April 16, 2020.
  5. Dennehy, Michael. "Grateful that my parents came to America".
  6. "Brian Dennehy Biography". filmreference. 2008. Retrieved April 10, 2008.
  7. "Brian Dennehy Biography". Yahoo! Movies. 2008. Retrieved April 10, 2008.
  8. Parsi, Novid (January 7, 2010). "Dennehy's Last Tape". Time Out . Retrieved June 24, 2010. I come from an Irish Catholic family,...
  9. Harmetz, Aljean (April 23, 1989). "FILM; For Brian Dennehy, Character Tells All". The New York Times . Retrieved June 24, 2010.
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