The Journal Gazette
 
 
Friday, April 17, 2020 1:00 am

Brian Dennehy, star of stage, screen dies at 81

Associated Press

NEW YORK – Brian Dennehy, the burly actor who started in films as a macho heavy and later in his career won plaudits for his stage work in plays by William Shakespeare, Anton Chekhov, Eugene O'Neill and Arthur Miller, has died. He was 81.

Dennehy died Wednesday night of natural causes in New Haven, Connecticut, according to Kate Cafaro of ICM Partners, the actor's representatives.

Known for his broad frame, booming voice and ability to play good guys and bad guys with equal aplomb, Dennehy won two Tony Awards, a Golden Globe, a Laurence Olivier Award and was nominated for six Emmys. He was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2010.

Tributes came from Hollywood and Broadway, including from Lin-Manuel Miranda, who said he saw Dennehy twice onstage and called the actor “a colossus.” Actor Michael McKean said Dennehy was “brilliant and versatile, a powerhouse actor and a very nice man as well.” Dana Delany, who appeared in a movie with Dennehy, said: “They don't make his kind anymore.”

Among his 40-odd films, he played a sheriff who jailed Rambo in “First Blood,” a serial killer in “To Catch a Killer,” and a corrupt sheriff gunned down by Kevin Kline in “Silverado.” He also had some benign roles: the bartender who consoles Dudley Moore in “10” and the levelheaded leader of aliens in “Cocoon” and its sequel.

“The world has lost a great artist,” Sylvester Stallone wrote in tribute on Twitter, saying Dennehy helped him build the character of Rambo.

Eventually Dennehy wearied of the studio life. “Movies used to be fun,” he observed in an interview. “They took care of you, first-class. Those days are gone.”

Dennehy had a long connection with Chicago's Goodman Theater, which had a reputation for heavy drama. He appeared in Bertolt Brecht's “Galileo” in 1986 and later Chekhov's “Cherry Orchard” at far lower salaries than he earned in Hollywood. In 1990, he played the role of Hickey in Eugene O'Neill's “The Iceman Cometh,” a play he reprised at the Goodman with Nathan Lane in 2012 and in Brooklyn in 2015.

In 1998, Dennehy appeared on Broadway in the classic role of Willy Loman, the worn-out hustler in Miller's “Death of a Salesman” and won the Tony for his performance.

Dennehy was born July 9, 1938, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the first of three sons. Back in New York City in 1965, he pursued acting while working at side jobs. “I learned first-hand how a truck driver lives, what a bartender does, how a salesman thinks,” he told the New York Times in 1989. “I had to make a life inside those jobs, not just pretend.”

His parents – Ed Dennehy, an editor for The Associated Press in New York, and Hannah Dennehy, a nurse – could never understand why their son chose to act. “Anyone raised in a first or second generation immigrant family knows that you are expected to advance the ball down the field,” Dennehy told Columbia College Today in 1999. “Acting didn't qualify in any way.”

The 6-foot-3-inch Dennehy went to Hollywood for his first movie, “Semi-Tough” starring Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson. Dennehy was paid $10,000 a week for 10 week's work, which he thought “looked like it was all the money in the world.” He became a professional actor at the age of 38.

He worked deep into his 70s, in such projects as SundanceTV's “Hap and Leonard,” the film “The Seagull” with Elisabeth Moss and Annette Bening and the play “Endgame” by Samuel Beckett at the Long Wharf Theatre.

His last foray on Broadway was in “Love Letters” opposite Mia Farrow in 2014.

“Just devastated to learn that the magnificent Brian Dennehy has died. There is no one I enjoyed working with more. And there are few friends as valued in my life,” Farrow wrote Thursday.

He is survived by his second wife, costume designer Jennifer Arnott and their two children, Cormac and Sarah. He also is survived by three daughters – Elizabeth, Kathleen and Deirdre – from a previous marriage to Judith Scheff.


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