Brian Dennehy Dead, Prolific Character Actor Dies At Age 81

Brian Dennehy attends The NYMag, Vulture + TNT Celebrate The Premiere Of "Public Morals."
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Brian Dennehy has died. The celebrated actor, whose career includes nearly 200 credited roles, died at age 81 at his home in Connecticut, according to TMZ. The report listed his cause of death as natural and there will not be an autopsy. His daughter Elizabeth confirmed the news on Twitter.

“It is with heavy hearts we announce that our father, Brian passed away last night from natural causes, not Covid-related. Larger than life, generous to a fault, a proud and devoted father and grandfather, he will be missed by his wife Jennifer, family and many friends.”

Dennehy was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on July 9, 1938. He was the oldest of three boys and his father was a writer and editor for The Associated Press. Dennehy spent his early years in Red Hook, Brooklyn, before moving to Long Island where he was a high school football star at Chaminade High School. He went on to play football while attending Columbia University and graduated with a BA in history. The U.S. Marine Corps veteran also attended Yale as a graduate student. Before his acting career took off, Dennehy worked a number of interesting jobs while working in regional theater, including a meat truck driver, Merrill Lynch stockbroker, and bartender.

Dennehy has been married twice — to Judith Scheff between 1959 and 1974 and Jennifer Arnott since 1988 — and he has five children: Elizabeth, Kathleen, Deirdre, Cormac, and Sarah.


Dennehy Was One Of The Acting World’s Most Famous Cops

Brian Dennehy poses with a telephone.
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Dennehy’s build and good-guy, no-nonsense demeanor made him an ideal choice when it came to portraying law enforcement, per the Hollywood Reporter.

The most famous example was Sheriff Will Teasle in 1982’s First Blood, which saw him star alongside Sylvester Stallone in the film that kicked off the Rambo franchise. Dennehy was also cast as the law in Gorky Park (1983), Silverado (1985), F/X (1986) and its sequel, Best Seller (1987), Presumed Innocent (1990), The Last of the Finest (1990) and Assault on Precinct 13 (2005). Dennehy took his penchant for portraying police to the small screen between 1993 and 1996, playing Chicago detective Jack Reed in five television films for NBC.


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Dennehy Was A Hugely Successful Stage Actor

Actor Brian Dennehy poses with his Tony award.
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His constant casting as law enforcement didn’t mean that Dennehy didn’t have range. Two of his biggest films include his portrayal of an alien leader in 1985’s Cocoon and 1995’s Tommy Boy, where Dennehy played Chris Farley’s father. Dennehy picked up two Tony awards, in 1999 for his depiction of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman and in 2003 when he played Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Ben Brantley of The New York Times described Dennehy’s portrayal of Loman as “a grand emotional expansiveness that matches his monumental physique.”

While Dennehy enjoyed success as large as his physical build, he preferred the quiet life to the spotlight. The actor chose to live on a farm in northeast Connecticut because the most famous resident of the town was the actor who played Big Bird. He once explained his decision to take theater roles in Chicago instead of Broadway “because I can sit down with rational people who make $50,000 a year and live in houses and have children and pay their taxes and shop at Sears.”