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Brian Dennehy, veteran character actor known for 'Tommy Boy,' 'Death of a Salesman,' dies at 81

Brian Dennehy, veteran character actor known for 'Tommy Boy,' 'Death of a Salesman,' dies at 81


Brian Dennehy, a Tony- and Golden Globe-winning character actor known for his roles in the movie "Tommy Boy" and the TV movie "Death of a Salesman," has died at 81.





Dennehy died Wednesday in New Haven, Connecticut, with his wife Jennifer and son Cormac by his side, his representative Brad Turrell confirmed to USA TODAY in a statement on Thursday. 
Dennehy racked up more than 180 acting credits in his lengthy career, including roles as Chris Farley's father Thomas "Big Tom" Callahan Jr. in the 1995 comedy "Tommy Boy" and D.A. Jake Dunham in "Dynasty," as well as his more recent role as Dominic Wilkinson in NBC's "The Blacklist."
The veteran actor earned a Tony Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Golden Globe for his turn as Willy Loman in "Salesman" onscreen and on Broadway. He earned a second Tony Award for best actor in a play for "Long Day's Journey Into Night," opposite Vanessa Redgrave, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Robert Sean Leonard. He was nominated six times for a Primetime Emmy for his work in "A Killing in a Small Town" and "The Burden of Proof," among others.

Celebrities took to social media to mourn Dennehy's death.
Mia Farrow shared her heartbreak on Twitter Thursday with a photo of the late actor.
"Just devastated to learn that the magnificent Brian Dennehy has died," Farrow wrote in a tweet, adding there is "no one i enjoyed working with more. And there are few friends as valued in my life. I took this photo backstage when we were in Love Letters. He loved my pup Bowie."

Just devastated to learn that the magnificent Brian Dennehy has died. They is no one i enjoyed working with more. And there are few friends as valued in my life. I took this photo backstage when we were in Love Letters. He loved my pup Bowie.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted that he "was lucky enough to see Brian Dennehy twice on stage, masterful in Love Letters, and monumentally heartbreaking in Death Of A Salesman. A colossus. What a loss."
William Shatner offered his condolences to Dennehy's family in a tweet, calling him "a wonderfully talented actor."
One of Dennehy’s most memorable film roles came in Alan J. Pakula’s 1990 adaptation of Turow’s bestselling novel “Presumed Innocent,” starring Harrison Ford as the Chicago assistant district attorney on trial for the murder of a co-worker with whom he had an affair. Dennehy played his boss, who’s up for re-election and has multiple divided loyalties, with a subtlety that was absolutely necessary. Another signal moment was auteur Peter Greenaway’s 1987 film “The Belly of an Architect,” in which the actor starred as the title character.
The actor was perhaps the foremost living interpreter of O’Neill’s works. In 2009 Dennehy starred on Broadway as Ephraim Cabot in a revival of the playwright’s “Desire Under the Elms,” and in 2012 he played Larry Slade, the former lefty seeking to drink himself to death, in O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh” at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, reprising the role in 2015 when the production, also starring Nathan Lane, was revived at the BAM Harvey Theater in New York City.
Underscoring his adeptness with the physical business of being an actor, a scene in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” in which a drunken Tyrone gets onto a table to unscrew many of the bulbs in a lit chandelier left many in the audience with the fear that the actor would tumble off the stage even though they knew Dennehy was not really drunk.
Dennehy had a decades-long association with the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, where most of his explorations of O’Neill originated. He first appeared at the Goodman in 1986 in the title role of Brecht’s “Galileo” and first paired with the theater on O’Neill with a 1990 revival of “The Iceman Cometh” in which he played Hickey. In 1996 he starred there in O’Neill’s “A Touch of the Poet,” playing the tyrannical, Falstaff-like Con Melody.
After his Tony-winning performance in 2003 in O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” he took on the playwright’s obscure, posthumously published one-act “Hughie” at the Goodman in 2004, revisiting the show again in 2010 in repertory with Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape.”
Dennehy headlined the Goodman’s 2009 “A Global Exploration: Eugene O’Neill in the 21st Century” festival in the revival of “Desire Under the Elms” that subsequently transferred to Broadway.
The production of “Death of a Salesman” that won Dennehy his first Tony originated at the Goodman, later went to the West End and was brought to the small screen on Showtime in 2000, resulting in an Emmy nomination for Dennehy as well as a SAG Award and a Golden Globe. The New York Times called it “the performance of his career.”
In the early to mid-’90s Dennehy starred as a Chicago police detective in the “Jack Reed” series of TV movies, several of which he also wrote and directed.
Brian Manion Dennehy was born in Bridgeport, Conn. He served in the Marines from 1959-63, after which he studied history at Columbia, attending the university on a football scholarship. He subsequently earned his MFA in dramatic arts from Yale.
Dennehy made his Broadway debut in 1995 in Brian Friel’s “Translations” opposite Dana Delany. After “Death of a Salesman” and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” the actor played Matthew Harrison Brady in a 2007 revival of “Inherit the Wind” opposite Christopher Plummer as Henry Drummond. And in 2014 he starred opposite Carol Burnett and Mia Farrow in a revival of A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters.”
Dennehy also received Emmy nominations in 1990 for his role as a defense attorney in the telepic “A Killing in a Small Town”; in 1992 both for his role in the Scott Turow-based miniseries “The Burden of Proof” and for his role as serial killer John Wayne Gacy in the TV movie “To Catch a Killer”; in 1993 for his role in the miniseries “Murder in the Heartland”; and in 2005 for his role in Showtime’s “Our Fathers,” about the Catholic church’s conspiracy, centering on Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, to conceal sexual abuse.
Reviewing “Our Fathers,” Variety lauded “the ever-brilliant Brian Dennehy in a knockout perf as an outspoken priest who uses the pulpit to denounce Law’s leadership.”
In 1981 he recurred on “Dynasty” as D.A. Jake Dunham; the next year Dennehy starred as a fire chief in the brief-running ABC sitcom “Star of the Family.” He tried series television again in 1994 with ABC’s brief-running “Birdland,” in which he played a hospital’s chief of psychiatry, and in NBC’s 2001 sitcom “The Fighting Fitzgeralds,” in which he starred as the reluctant paterfamilias of an unruly Irish clan.
In the highly regarded 1989 TV movie “Day One,” the actor played Gen. Leslie Groves, who oversaw the development of the atomic bomb. In 2000 he starred as Gen. Bogan in the Stephen Frears-directed TV adaptation of nuclear armageddon thriller “Fail Safe.”
Denney was married twice, the first time to Judith Scheff. He is survived by second wife Jennifer Arnott, a costume designer, whom he married in 1988; three daughters by Scheff, actresses Elizabeth and Kathleen, and Deirdre; as well as son Cormac and daughter Sarah with Arnott.
James Woods shared a photo with Dennehy. "I’m just devastated to hear we lost my beloved friend and colleague," Woods wrote on Twitter. "We were partners on two of my favorite films, Split Image and Best Seller. I’ve never laughed so hard as we did every day on the set or off. For a big “tough guy,” he was a sweetheart.
Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted that he "was lucky enough to see Brian Dennehy twice on stage, masterful in Love Letters, and monumentally heartbreaking in Death Of A Salesman. A colossus. What a loss."
William Shatner offered his condolences to Dennehy's family in a tweet, calling him "a wonderfully talented actor."
James Woods shared a photo with Dennehy. "I’m just devastated to hear we lost my beloved friend and colleague," Woods wrote on Twitter. "We were partners on two of my favorite films, Split Image and Best Seller. I’ve never laughed so hard as we did every day on the set or off. For a big “tough guy,” he was a sweetheart.

I’m just devastated to hear we lost my beloved friend and colleague, . We were partners on two of my favorite films, Split Image and Best Seller. I’ve never laughed so hard as we did every day on the set or off. For a big “tough guy,” he was a sweetheart.

View image on Twitter

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The 6-foot-3-inch Dennehy went to Hollywood for his first movie, “Semi-Tough” starring Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson. He was paid $10,000 a week for 10 weeks' work, which he thought “looked like it was all the money in the world.”
Among his 40-odd films, Dennehy 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.
His movies also included “Looking for Mr. Goodbar,” “Foul Play,” “Little Miss Marker,” “Split Image,” “Gorky Park,” “Legal Eagles,” “Miles from Home,” “Return to Snowy River,” “Presumed Innocent,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Assault on Precinct 13.”






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