Entertainment

Brian Dennehy, ‘Tommy Boy’ and ‘First Blood’ Star, Dies at 81

Brian Dennehy, ‘Tommy Boy’ and ‘First Blood’ Star, Dies at 81
Brian Dennehy. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Bei/Shutterstock Photo®Eric Charbonneau/BEI

Brian Dennehy, the winner of two Tonys in a career that also spanned films including “Tommy Boy,” “First Blood” and “Cocoon,” and television roles including “Dynasty” and “Death of a Salesman,” died on Wednesday night in New Haven, Conn. He was 81.

“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,” his daughter, actress Elizabeth Dennehy, tweeted on Thursday.

His agency ICM also confirmed the news.

In the 1995 comedy “Tommy Boy,” Dennehy was Big Tom, the father of Chris Farley’s character Tom, who takes over the family’s auto parts business with David Spade after his father dies. In Ron Howard’s 1985 hit “Cocoon,” Dennehy played the leader of the alien Antareans who leave lifeforce-giving cocoons in a a swimming pool near a retirement home.

The imposingly tall, barrel-chested Dennehy won his first Tony for his performance as Willy Loman in a revival of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” in 1999 and his second Tony for his turn as James Tyrone in a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” in 2003.

Brian Dennehy, the winner of two Tonys in a career that also spanned films including “Tommy Boy,” “First Blood” and “Cocoon,” and television roles including “Dynasty” and “Death of a Salesman,” died on Wednesday night in New Haven, Conn. He was 81.

“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,” his daughter, actress Elizabeth Dennehy, tweeted on Thursday.

His agency ICM also confirmed the news.

In the 1995 comedy “Tommy Boy,” Dennehy was Big Tom, the father of Chris Farley’s character Tom, who takes over the family’s auto parts business with David Spade after his father dies. In Ron Howard’s 1985 hit “Cocoon,” Dennehy played the leader of the alien Antareans who leave lifeforce-giving cocoons in a a swimming pool near a retirement home.

The imposingly tall, barrel-chested Dennehy won his first Tony for his performance as Willy Loman in a revival of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” in 1999 and his second Tony for his turn as James Tyrone in a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” in 2003.

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.”

Dennehy 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.

SOURCE: Variety

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