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Brian Dennehy

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Title: Brian Dennehy  
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Subject: Geoffrey Rush, Al Pacino, Silverado (film), Everyone's Hero, Tommy Boy
Collection: 1938 Births, 20Th-Century American Male Actors, 21St-Century American Male Actors, American Male Film Actors, American Male Stage Actors, American Male Television Actors, American People of Irish Descent, American Theater Hall of Fame Inductees, Best Miniseries or Television Movie Actor Golden Globe Winners, Chaminade High School Alumni, Columbia Lions Football Players, Columbia University Alumni, Drama Desk Award Winners, Laurence Olivier Award Winners, Living People, Male Actors from Bridgeport, Connecticut, Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie Screen Actors Guild Award Winners, People from Mineola, New York, Tony Award Winners, United States Marines, Yale School of Drama Alumni, Yale University Alumni
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Brian Dennehy

Brian Dennehy
Dennehy in July 2009
Born (1938-07-09) July 9, 1938
Bridgeport, Connecticut, United States
Occupation Actor
Years active 1977–present
Spouse(s) Judith Scheff (m. 1959–74)
Jennifer Arnott (m. 1988)

Brian Mannion Dennehy (born July 9, 1938) is an American actor of film, stage, and television. After gaining recognition for portraying the corrupt Sheriff Will Teasle in First Blood (1982), Dennehy went on to win one Golden Globe, two Tony Awards and six Primetime Emmy Award nominations.


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
    • Film 2.1
    • Television 2.2
    • Theater 2.3
  • Influence in popular media 3
  • Personal life 4
  • Filmography 5
    • Film 5.1
    • Television 5.2
  • Awards and nominations 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early life

Dennehy was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the son of Hannah and Edward Dennehy, a wire service editor for the Associated Press. He has two brothers, Michael and Edward.[1][2] He is of Irish ancestry and was raised Roman Catholic.[3][4] The family relocated to Long Island, New York, where Dennehy attended Chaminade High School in the town of Mineola.

Dennehy enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1959, serving active duty on Okinawa[5] until 1963. In numerous interviews, Dennehy has claimed to be a Vietnam veteran who served a 5-year tour in Vietnam and recounted harrowing tales of his combat there,[5] but according to the book Stolen Valor, Dennehy never served in Vietnam at all and never saw active combat.[6] Stolen Valor and other books surmised that fabrications of PTSD and traumatic events in general were intended to gain honor or recognition.[7] The author of Stolen Valor wrote to Dennehy regarding the discrepancy, but received no reply from the actor, although Dennehy later admitted in an interview that he had lied about his service and apologized for it.[6] Nonetheless, he later repeated the same story about serving in Vietnam in an interview with Joanne Kaufmann of the Wall Street Journal.

After his Marine Corps service, Dennehy went on to attend Columbia, where he played football and majored in history, where he also became a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity, before moving on to Yale to study dramatic arts. He played rugby union for Old Blue RFC. Prior to his pursuit of an acting career, Dennehy worked as a stockbroker for Merrill Lynch in their main office in downtown New York in the mid 1970s.[8]



Dennehy is primarily known as a dramatic actor. His breakthrough role was as the overzealous Sheriff Will Teasle in First Blood (1982) opposite Sylvester Stallone as Rambo.

His earlier films included several comedies, like Semi-Tough with Burt Reynolds (in which he portrayed a pro football player), Foul Play with Chevy Chase, and 10 with Dudley Moore (as an Acapulco bartender). He later portrayed a corrupt sheriff in the western Silverado and an alien in Cocoon, both released in 1985.

Memorable supporting parts featured Dennehy in such films as Split Image (1982), Legal Eagles (1986), F/X: Murder By Illusion (1986), Presumed Innocent (1990) and F/X2: The Deadly Art of Illusion (1991).

Dennehy gradually became a valuable character actor but also achieved leading-man status in the thriller Best Seller (1987) co-starring James Woods. He also starred in the Peter Greenaway film The Belly of an Architect, for which he won the Best Actor Award at the 1987 Chicago International Film Festival. Commenting upon this unusual venture, Dennehy said, "I've been in a lot of movies but this is the first film I've made."

He went on to star as Harrison in the Australian film The Man from Snowy River II in 1988.

One of his most well-known roles came in the 1995 Chris Farley-David Spade comedy Tommy Boy as Big Tom Callahan. He also was reunited with his 10 co-star Bo Derek in Tommy Boy, in which she played his wife.

Dennehy in October 2003

Dennehy had a voice role in the animated movie Ratatouille as Django, the rat chef Remy's father. He appeared as the superior officer of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in the 2008 cop drama Righteous Kill and as the father of Russell Crowe in the 2010 suspense film The Next Three Days.

Dennehy starred as Clarence Darrow in Alleged, a film based on the Scopes Monkey Trial, the famous court battle over the teaching of evolution in American public schools.[9]


Dennehy began his professional acting career in small guest roles in such 1970s and 1980s series as Kojak, Lou Grant, Dallas and Dynasty. He also appeared in an episode of Miami Vice during the 1987–88 season.

Dennehy portrayed Sergeant Ned T. "Frozen Chosen" Coleman in the television movie A Rumor of War (1980) opposite Brad Davis. He continued to appear in such high-profile television movies as Skokie (1981), Split Image (1982), Day One, (1989), A Killing in a Small Town (1990) opposite Barbara Hershey, In Broad Daylight (1991), Scott Turow's The Burden of Proof and the miniseries A Season in Purgatory. He also played the title role in HBO's Teamster Boss: The Jackie Presser Story.

Dennehy had a lead role as fire chief/celebrity dad Leslie "Buddy" Krebs in the short-lived 1982 series Star of the Family. Despite his star power, that show was canceled after a half a season.

Dennehy was nominated for Emmy Awards six times for his television movies. He was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie for his performance as John Wayne Gacy in To Catch a Killer, and he was nominated that same year in a different category, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie, for The Burden of Proof (1992). Other Emmy nominatations were for his work in A Killing in a Small Town, Murder in the Heartland (1993) and for the Showtime cable TV movie Our Fathers (2005), which was about the Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. In 2000, Dennehy was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie for a television presentation of his performance as Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman which he had performed on Broadway. The performance did, however, precipitate a Golden Globe Award.

He has starred in the popular crime drama Jack Reed TV movies. He also appeared as a recurring character in the NBC sitcom Just Shoot Me!.

Dennehy was parodied in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999) and an episode of The Simpsons.

In January 2007, he starred in the episode "Scheherazade" of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as a retired criminal who wants to reconnect with his daughter and admit his crimes before dying of a terminal disease thus eventually clearing a wrongfully imprisoned inmate. In April 2008, Dennehy guest-starred as a Teamster boss in an episode of 30 Rock.

Dennehy guest-starred in a 2009 episode of Rules of Engagement as the father of the main character, Jeff.[10]

Dennehy has also narrated many television programs.[11] He narrated Canadian-Irish docudrama Death or Canada.[12][13]

Dennehy is set to star in the upcoming Amazon Studios series Cocked which will costar Jason Lee, Dreama Walker, Diora Baird, and Sam Trammell.


Dennehy has won two Tony Awards, both times for Best Lead Actor in a Play. The first win was for Death of a Salesman (for which he also won a Laurence Olivier Award for the production's London run), in 1999, and the second was for Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night in 2003. Both productions were directed by Robert Falls and were originally produced at the Goodman Theatre company in Chicago.

On stage, Dennehy has made frequent performances in the Chicago theater world, and made his Broadway debut in 1995 in Brian Friel's Translations. In 1999, he was the first male performer to be voted the Sarah Siddons Award for his work in Chicago theater. He made a return to Broadway in 2007 as Matthew Harrison Brady in Inherit the Wind opposite Christopher Plummer, then returned again opposite Carla Gugino in a 2009 revival of Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms.

In fall 1992, he played the lead role of Hickey in Robert Falls's production of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.[14]

In 2008, Dennehy appeared at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, appearing in All's Well That Ends Well as the King of France, and a double bill of plays, Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape and Eugene O'Neill's Hughie, where Dennehy reprised the role of Erie Smith.

In 2010, he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.[15]

In December 2010, he returned to Ireland to play the Bull McCabe in the Olympia Theatre of Dublin's stage version of John B. Keane's The Field.[14][16][17]

In 2011, Dennehy returned to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in the role of Sir Toby Belch in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. He also played Max in Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, which is the first Pinter work to be produced there.

In April through June 2012, he played the role of Larry Slade in the Eugene O'Neill play The Iceman Cometh at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago,[18] which he reprised in 2015 when the production, with most of the Goodman Theater production cast, was revived at the BAM Harvey Theater in New York City.[19]

Influence in popular media

In the comic book series Ultimate Spider-Man, that series' version of the villain Norman Osborn was rendered by artist Mark Bagley to resemble actor Brian Dennehy, as per writer Brian Michael Bendis' instructions.[20]

Personal life

He is the father of the actress Elizabeth Dennehy.



Year Title Role Notes
1977 Semi-Tough T.J. Lambert
1977 Looking for Mr. Goodbar Surgeon
1977 Bumpers Ernie Stapp
1978 Foul Play Fergie
1978 F.I.S.T. Frank Vasco
1979 10 Don the Bartender
1979 Butch and Sundance: The Early Days O.C. Hanks
1980 Little Miss Marker Herbie
1982 Split Image Kevin Stetson
1982 First Blood Sheriff Will Teasle
1983 Gorky Park William Kirwill
1983 Never Cry Wolf Rose Little
1984 Finders Keepers Mayor Frizzoli
1984 The River Rat Doc Cole
1985 Silverado Sheriff Cobb
1985 Cocoon Walter
1985 Twice in a Lifetime Nick
1985 The Check Is in the Mail Richard Jackson
1986 F/X Lt. Leo McCarthy
1986 Legal Eagles C.J. Cavanaugh
1987 The Belly of an Architect Stourley Kracklite
1987 Best Seller Lt. Dennis Meechum
1988 Miles from Home Frank Roberts, Sr.
1988 The Man from Snowy River II Harrison
1988 Cocoon: The Return Walter
1989 Georg Elser – Einer aus Deutschland Wagner
1989 Indio Whytaker
1990 The Last of the Finest (Blue Heat) Frank Daly
1990 Presumed Innocent Raymond Horgan
1991 F/X2 Leo McCarthy
1992 Gladiator Jimmy Horn
1994 Jackaboy Blue Guggles McMillian
1995 Tommy Boy Big Tom Callahan II
1995 The Stars Fell on Henrietta Big Dave McDermot
1996 William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet Ted Montague
1998 Dish Dogs Frost
1999 The Virtuoso Unknown
1999 Out of the Cold David Bards
1999 Silicon Towers Unknown
2001 Summer Catch John Schiffner
2001 Warden of Red Rock Sheriff Church Television movie
2001 Three Blind Mice Matthew Hope
2002 Stolen Summer Father Kelly
2002 Code Yellow: Hospital at Ground Zero Narrator
2002 Drawing First Blood Himself Short film
2004 She Hate Me Chairman Billy Church
2005 Assault on Precinct 13 Jasper O'Shea
2005 Tommy Boy: Behind the Laughter Himself Short film
2005 10th and Wolf Horvath
2006 The Ultimate Gift Gus
2006 Everyone's Hero Babe Ruth Voice
2007 Ratatouille Django Voice
2007 War Eagle, Arkansas Unknown
2008 Righteous Kill Lt. Hingus
2009 Factory 9 Unknown
2010 Alleged Clarence Darrow
2010 The Next Three Days George Brennan
2010 Meet Monica Velour Pop Pop
2010 Every Day Ernie
2011 The Big Year Raymond Harris
2015 Knight of Cups Joseph Awaiting Theatrical Release


Year Title Role Notes
1977 Kojak Peter Connor Episode: "The Godson"
1977 Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye Longshoreman Television movie
1977 It Happened at Lakewood Manor Fire Chief Television movie
1977 Lou Grant Wilson Episode: "Nazi"
1977 M*A*S*H Ernie Connors Episode: "Souvenirs"
1978 A Real American Hero Buford Pusser Television movie
1978 Pearl Sgt. Otto Chain 3 episodes
1978 Dallas Luther Frick Episode: "Winds of Vengeance"
1978 Ruby and Oswald George Paulsen Television movie
1978 A Death in Canaan Barney Parsons Television movie
1979 Dummy Ragoti Television movie
1979 Big Shamus, Little Shamus Arnie Sutter 2 episodes
1979 The Jericho Mile Dr. D Television movie
1979 Silent Victory: The Kitty O'Neil Story Mr. O'Neil Television movie
1980 A Rumor of War Sgt. Ned Coleman Television movie
1980 The Seduction of Miss Leona Bliss Dawson Television movie
1981 Dynasty DA Jake Dunham 5 episodes
1981 Darkroom Roland Episode: "Make-Up"
1981 Skokie Chief Arthur Buchanan Television movie
1981 Fly Away Home Tim Arnold Television movie
1982 Star of the Family Leslie Krebs 10 episodes
1983 I Take These Men Phil Zakarian Television movie
1983 Blood Feud Edward Grady Partin Television movie
1984 Cagney and Lacey Michael MacGruder Episode: "The Bounty Hunter"
1984 Hunter Dr. Bolin Episode: "Hunter"
1984 Off Sides Sgt. Cheever Television movie
1985 Evergreen Matthew Malone 3 episodes
1985 The Last Place on Earth Frederick Cook 2 episodes
1986 Acceptable Risks Don Sheppard Television movie
1987 The Lion of Africa Sam Marsh Television movie
1987 Miami Vice Reverend Billy Bob Proverb Episode: "Amen...Send Money"
1988 A Father's Revenge Paul Hobart Television movie
1989 Day One General Leslie Groves Television movie
1989 Perfect Witness James Falcon Television movie
1990 A Killing in a Small Town Ed Reivers Television movie
1990 Rising Son Gus Robinson Television movie
1990 Pride and Extreme Prejudice Bruno Morenz Television movie
1991 In Broad Daylight Len Rowan Television movie
1992 The Diamond Fleece Lt. Merritt Outlaw Television movie
1992 Teamster Boss: The Jackie Presser Story Jackie Presser Television movie
1992 To Catch a Killer John Wayne Gacy Television movie
1992 The Burden of Proof Dixon Hartnell Television movie
1992 Deadly Matrimony Sgt. Jack Reed Television movie
1993 Foreign Affairs Chuck Mumpson Television movie
1993 Prophet of Evil: The Ervil LeBaron Story Ervil LaBaron Television movie
1993 Final Appeal Perry Sundquist Television movie
1993 Jack Reed: Badge of Honor Jack Reed Television movie
1993 Murder in the Heartland John McCarthur Television movie
1994 Leave of Absence Sam Television movie
1994 Midnight Movie James Boyce Television movie
1994 Jack Reed: A Search for Justice Jack Reed Television movie
1994 Birdland Dr. Brian McKenzie 4 episodes
1995 Jack Reed: One of Our Own Jack Reed Television movie
1995 Shadow of a Doubt Charlie Sloan Television movie
1996 Dead Man's Walk Major Chvallie 2 episodes
1996 Jack Reed: A Killer Among Us Jack Reed Television movie
1996 Jack Reed: Death and Vengeance Jack Reed Television movie
1996 A Season in Purgatory Gerald Bradly Television movie
1996 Undue Influence Paul Madriani Television movie
1996 Nostromo Joshua C. Holyrod 4 episodes
1997 Indefensible: The Truth About Edward Brannigan Eddie Brannigan Television movie
1998–2003 Just Shoot Me Red Finch 4 episodes
1998 Voyage of Terror U.S. President Television movie
1998 Thanks of a Grateful Nation Senator Riegle Television movie
1999 Netforce Lowell Davidson Television movie
1999 Sirens Lt. Denby Television movie
1999 Too Rich: The Secret Life of Doris Duke Louis Bromfield Television movie
2000 Fail Safe Gen. Bogan Television movie
2000 Death of a Salesman Willy Loman Television movie
2001 The Fighting Fitzgeralds Fitzgerald 10 episodes
2002 A Season on the Brink Bobby Knight Television movie
2003 The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone Tom Stone Television movie
2004 Category 6: Day of Destruction Andy Goodman Television movie
2005 Our Fathers Father Dominic Spagnolia Television movie
2005 The Exonerated Gary Gauger Television movie
2005 The West Wing Senator Rafe Framingham Episode: "Ninety Miles Away"
2006 The 4400 Mitch Baldwin season 3 episode 8
2007 Law and Order: Special Victims Unit Judson Episode: "Scheherezade"
2007 Marco Polo Kublai Khan Television movie
2007 Masters of Science Fiction Bedzyk Episode: "The Discarded"
2008 30 Rock Mickey J Episode: "Sandwich Day"
2009 Rules of Engagement Roy Episode: "Dad's Visit"
2010 Rizzoli & Isles Detective Kenny Leahy Episode: "Boston Strangler Redux"
2012 The Good Wife Bucky 2 episodes
2013 The Challenger Chairman William Rogers Television movie
2013 The Big C Mr. Tolkey Episode: "The Finale"
2015 Public Morals Joe Patton 7 episodes

Awards and nominations

Year Association Category Nominated work Result
1990 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie A Killing in a Small Town Nominated
1992 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie The Burden of Proof Nominated
1992 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie To Catch a Killer Nominated
1993 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Murder in the Heartland Nominated
1994 CableACE Awards Best Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Foreign Affairs Won
1997 Satellite Awards Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film A Season of Purgatory Nominated
1999 Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Actor in a Play Death of a Salesman Won
1999 Satellite Awards Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Thanks of a Grateful Nation Nominated
1999 Tony Awards Best Actor in a Play Death of a Salesman Won
2000 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Death of a Salesman Nominated
2001 Golden Globe Awards Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film Death of a Salesman Won
2001 Producers Guild Awards Outstanding Producer of Long-Form Television Death of a Salesman Won
2001 Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie Death of a Salesman Won
2003 Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Actor in a Play Long Day's Journey Into Night Nominated
2003 Tony Awards Best Actor in a Play Long Day's Journey Into Night Won
2005 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Our Fathers Nominated
2005 Satellite Awards Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Our Fathers Nominated


  1. ^ "Brian Dennehy Biography". filmreference. 2008. Retrieved April 10, 2008. 
  2. ^ "Brian Dennehy Biography". Yahoo! Movies. 2008. Retrieved April 10, 2008. 
  3. ^ Parsi, Novid (January 7, 2010). "Dennehy’s Last Tape".  
  4. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (April 23, 1989). "FILM; For Brian Dennehy, Character Tells All".  
  5. ^ a b Ehrenberg, Nicholas (November 11, 2005). "Fake War Stories Exposed". CBS News. Retrieved 18 December 2014. 
  6. ^ a b Burkett, B. G. (September 2, 1998). Stolen Valor : How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History (1st ed.). Verity Pr Inc.  
  7. ^ Vasterling, Jennifer; Bryant, Richard; Keane, Terence (2012). PTSD and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. Guilford Press. p. 177. 
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Exclusive: Brian Dennehy Lands "Meaty" Sitcom Role".  
  11. ^ "Brian Dennehy's IMDB profile". Retrieved March 20, 2009. 
  12. ^ "IFTA nominations for Farrell & Gleeson".  
  13. ^ Ahearn, Victoria (March 12, 2009). "Brian Dennehy narrates film on Toronto's role in Irish famine". The Star. Retrieved March 20, 2009. 
  14. ^ a b "The Bull in winter". The Irish Times. January 1, 2011. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ Fintan O'Toole (January 1, 2011). "Real-life dramas? We don't do those. But John B Keane did". The Irish Times. 
  17. ^ Emer O'Kelly (January 23, 2011). "The ignoble passions of The Field fail to ignite". 
  18. ^ Bullen, Robert (May 8, 2012). "Goodman's Iceman Cometh, Starring Nathan Lane, Chills to the Core". Huffington Post. 
  19. ^ Isherwood, Charles (February 12, 2015). "Review: ‘The Iceman Cometh’ Revived, With Nathan Lane and Brian Dennehy". New York Times. 
  20. ^ Brucie, Dylan (March 2007). "Ultimate Spider-Man". Wizard Xtra!. p. 117.

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