Actor Brian Dennehy Passes Away at 81


Tommy Boy and First Blood Star Brian Dennehy Has Passed Away

Brian Dennehy passed away Wednesday night at the age of 81. His daughter, actress Elizabeth Dennehy, broke the news on Twitter Thursday morning. “It is with heavy hearts we announce that our father, Brian passed away last night from natural causes, not Covid-related,” she wrote. “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 reps at ICM also confirmed the news. He was at his home in New Haven, Connecticut.

Brian Dennehy on Film

An autographed photo of Brian Dennehy - via IMDb
An autographed photo of Brian Dennehy – via IMDb

Dennehy was primarily a dramatic actor, though his first few films were comedies. He was in Semi-Tough in 1977 opposite Burt Reynolds, Foul Play in 1978 opposite Chevy Chase, and 10 in 1979 opposite Dudley Moore. But his breakout role was in First Blood (1982), in which he played a zealous sheriff, Will Teasle. In this, he was opposite Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo.

First Blood thrust Dennehy into stardom but it didn’t stop there. Throughout the ’80s and early ’90s he got several memorable supporting roles in big films such as Split Image (1982), F/X: Murder by Illusion (1986), Presumed Innocent (1990), Prophet of Evil (1993), and more.

His role in Tommy Boy (1995) is perhaps his best-known movie role. He played Big Tom Callahan in the Chris Farley/David Spade-led comedy.

Dennehy acted until the end of his life. Son of the South, in which he played the grandfather, is set to come out later this year. 

Brian Dennehy on Television

Dennehy’s career began with small television roles in the ’70s and ’80s. He appeared on shows such as Kojak, Dynasty, and Miami Vice.

He earned Emmy nominations for his work in TV movies. Most notable was his portrayal of John Wayne Gacy in To Catch a Killer. His work in A Killing in a Small Town, Murder in the Heartland, and Our Fathers also earned him Emmy nominations. Dennehy won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, a role he also played on Broadway.

He acted in TV series and movies through 2017.

Brian Dennehy on Stage

Dennehy frequently returned to theater throughout his career. He twice won the Tony for Best Lead Actor in a Play—first for Death of Salesman in 1999, and second for Long Day’s Journey into Night in 2003. Robert Falls directed Dennehy in both productions, which debuted at the Goodman Theatre company in Chicago. 

Dennehy often appeared in the Chicago theater world. In fact, he was rewarded for his work in the area with the Sarah Siddons Award, the first male performer to receive it. He did not make his Broadway debut until 1995, in Translations. He returned to Broadway in 2007 for Inherit the Wind, in which he starred opposite Christopher Plummer.  In 2009, he came back again for the revival of Desire Under the Elms

Dennehy also performed in the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario a few times as well as appearing in shows on West End in London.

In 2010, he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.

He appeared on stage through 2015.

Personal Life

Brian Dennehy was born July 9, 1938, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. His family eventually moved to Long Island, New York. He attended Chaminade High School.

On a football scholarship, he attended Columbia University in New York, where he earned a B.A. in History. He then went on to earn his MFA in dramatic arts at Yale.

Dennehy also served briefly in the Marine Corps from 1958 to 1963. 

Overall, Dennehy had an acting career that spanned from 1977 to the end of his life in 2020. In that time, he also married twice and had five children. With his first wife, he had three daughters: Elizabeth, Kathleen, and Deidre. He had a son, Cormac, and a daughter, Sarah, with his second wife. He married his second wife, Jennifer, in 1988, and they were married until his death.

All of us at Word of the Nerd send our sincerest condolences to his family and all his loved ones.

For more Word of the Nerd entertainment news, click here.

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