Memoriam Brian Dennehy

Brian DennehyBrian Dennehy, born July 9, 1938, passed away of natural causes at age 81 on April 15, 2020 in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

He was a larger than life actor that didn’t look or sound like an actor, who became one of the greatest actors the USA gifted to the world.  A Broadway star that knew how to lead a company brilliantly.

Primarily known as a dramatic character actor, known for his broad frame, booming voice and ability to play both good and bad guys, he was equally a force on stage and screen. In a busy career that spanned over 4 decades, Brian Dennehy’s towering presence made him one of the most iconic thespians of our time.

Following high school graduation he attended Columbia University, on a football scholarship. He left Columbia in 1959, but his acting career was postponed by a five-year stint in the U.S. Marine Corps. After his military service, Brian held a number of other jobs, working at various times as a waiter, a bartender, a truck driver, and a motel clerk. He was nearly 40 years old by the time he broke into TV and movies.

In 1977 he appeared on a number of TV series, including Kojak, M*A*S*H, and Lou Grant. In 1981 he had a recurring role on the nighttime soap opera Dynasty, and he later appeared on Miami Vice, Just Shoot Me!, 30 Rock, Rules of Engagement, The Fighting Fitzgeralds, Fail Safe, Public Morals and To Catch a Killer, in which he portrayed serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

In 1977 Dennehy made his big-screen debut, appearing in Looking for Mr. Goodbar and in the football comedy Semi-Tough. His film career took off soon after, with a number of small parts in the late 1970s followed by larger roles, such as the sheriff in First Blood (1982), the earliest of the Rambo movies, which starred Sylvester Stallone. Playing both villains and heroes, his film work included Gorky Park (1983), Silverado (1985), Cocoon (1985), F/X (1986), Legal Eagles (1986), Presumed Innocent (1990), Ratatouille (2007), Righteous Kill (2008), Alleged (2010), Knight of Cups (2015), The Seagull, Tag, Driveways (2019) and his final movie Son of the South (2020).

Although his work on screen brought him international success, he was most at home on stage, on Broadway or his beloved Chicago with Bob Falls, the pepper to his salt in long-time collaboration. Brian acted in a number of theatre productions, among them RAT IN THE SKULL (1985), GALILEO (1986), THE CHERRY ORCHARD (1988), THE ICEMAN COMETH (1990–91), TRANSLATIONS (1995), and A TOUCH OF THE POET (1996).

I had the joy of working with him as he took on the lead role in our 50th-anniversary Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s DEATH OF A SALESMAN, which earned Brian a Tony Award in 1999 and a Golden Globe in 2000; He reprised his role in DEATH OF A SALESMAN on London’s West End. Brian won another Tony in 2003 for his Broadway turn as James Tyrone in our production of Eugene O’Neill’s LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT. The productions established recognition for Brian as one of our finest stage actors.

He portrayed Sir Toby Belch in a musical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (2011); a film of the production was released in 2012. In 2014 he starred opposite Mia Farrow (and later Carol Burnett) in a Broadway revival of LOVE LETTERS. He was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2015.

Often famously cynical yet with a good sense of humor, he was also a generous man, that dearly loved his family including his second wife Jennifer Arnott, 3 daughters from his first marriage to Judith Scheff (Elizabeth, Kathleen and Deirdre), and with Jennifer Arnott (son Cormac and daughter Sarah).

USA NYC Theatre Guild Building with TobyI also was his look-a-like / body double, particularly in my 47th Street & Broadway / Theatre Guild office days with my own building doorman, after many years seeing me daily with the company I founded spread over 2 floors, apparently always thought I was Brian, and wished me good luck on the Death of a Salesman opening night as I headed to the opening in my tuxedo. This was very useful in the West End of London where I would be offered free drinks in the pubs nearby the theatre.  I likely could have walked on stage to accept his awards at many a venue, and nobody would be the wiser (until my accent would give me away) and Brian may have liked me doing that for him.

The world mourns the loss, but celebrates the memories and legacy of this amazing man, fortunately, captured on film.

Toby Awards Trophy Brian Dennehytoby awards
In 2005, Brian Dennehy was the recipient of a Toby Award.

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happy memories

Long Days Journey Into Night on Broadway

James Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey into Night on Broadway

Death Of A Salesman London

Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman in London

Death Of A Salesman on Broadway

Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman on Broadway

Brian Dennehy on IMDB

Brian Dennehy, you’ve earned a good rest in peace.