Brian Dennehy

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Brian Dennehy
Dennehy in July 2009
Born(1938-07-09) July 9, 1938 (age 75)
Bridgeport, Connecticut, U.S.
Years active1977–present
Spouse(s)Judith Scheff (1959–74)
Jennifer Arnott (1988–present)
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Brian Dennehy
Dennehy in July 2009
Born(1938-07-09) July 9, 1938 (age 75)
Bridgeport, Connecticut, U.S.
Years active1977–present
Spouse(s)Judith Scheff (1959–74)
Jennifer Arnott (1988–present)

Brian Mannion Dennehy (born July 9, 1938) is an American actor of film, stage, and television. He has won one Golden Globe, two Tony Awards and has been nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award six times.

Early life[edit]

Dennehy was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the son of Hannah and Edward Dennehy. Edward was a wire service editor for the Associated Press. Brian Dennehy has two brothers, Michael and Edward.[1][2] Dennehy 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.

Rather than immediately chase his dreams of stage and screen, Dennehy enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1959, actively serving until 1963. Although he said in numerous interviews that he had spent five years fighting in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, even telling harrowing tales of being hit by shrapnel, it was revealed in the 1998 book Stolen Valor by B.G. Burkett that Dennehy had never served overseas at all during his time in the military. Later that year, Dennehy admitted to the tabloid The Globe "I lied about serving in Vietnam and I'm sorry. That was very wrong of me. There is no real excuse for that. I was a peace-time Marine, and I got out in 1963 without ever serving in Vietnam. I started the story that I had been in 'Nam, and I got stuck with it. Then I didn't know how to set the record straight." Nonetheless, in 2007 Dennehy once again told a reporter that he had served in Vietnam, this time Joanne Kaufman of the Wall Street Journal.[5]

He 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.



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 did include several comedies like Semi-Tough with Burt Reynolds (in which he portrayed a pro football player), 10 with Dudley Moore (as an Acapulco bartender) and Foul Play with Chevy Chase. 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.[6]

Television [edit]

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.[7]

Dennehy has also narrated many television programs.[8] He narrated Canadian-Irish docudrama Death or Canada.[9][10]


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.[11]

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, one by Samuel Beckett, "Krapp's Last Tape" and Eugene O'Neill's play "Hughie", where Dennehy reprised the role of Erie Smith.

In 2010, he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.[12]

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.[11][13][14]

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.[15]

In 2013 for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's 60th season, Mr. Dennehy returned to play the Earl of Shrewsbury in Mary Stuart and Pozzo in Waiting for Godot.

Influence in popular media[edit]

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.[16]

Personal life[edit]

He is the father of actresses Elizabeth Dennehy and Kathleen Dennehy. He resides in Woodstock, Connecticut. His son Cormac Dennehy graduated from Pomfret School in 2011, while his daughter, Sarah, attends Woodstock Academy. He gave a commencement address at Pomfret School on May 29, 2011, when Cormac graduated. He and his wife, Jennifer, adopted a child.



1977Semi-ToughT.J. Lambert
1977Looking for Mr. GoodbarSurgeon
1977BumpersErnie Stapp
1978Foul PlayFergie
1978F.I.S.T.Frank Vasco
197910Don the Bartender
1979Butch and Sundance: The Early DaysO.C. Hanks
1980Little Miss MarkerHerbie
1982Split ImageKevin Stetson
1982First BloodSheriff Will Teasle
1983Gorky ParkWilliam Kirwill
1983Never Cry WolfRose Little
1984Finders KeepersMayor Frizzoli
1984The River RatDoc Cole
1985SilveradoSheriff Cobb
1985Twice in a LifetimeNick
1985The Check Is in the MailRichard Jackson
1986F/XLt. Leo McCarthy
1986Legal EaglesC.J. Cavanaugh
1987The Belly of an ArchitectStourley Kracklite
1987Best SellerLt. Dennis Meechum
1988Miles from HomeFrank Roberts, Sr.
1988The Man from Snowy River IIHarrison
1988Cocoon: The ReturnWalter
1989Blue Heat
1989Georg ElserWagner
1990The Last of the FinestFrank Daly
1990Presumed InnocentRaymond Horgan
1991F/X2Leo McCarthy
1992GladiatorJimmy Horn
1994Jackaboy BlueGuggles McMillian
1995Tommy BoyBig Tom Callahan II
1995The Stars Fell on HenriettaBig Dave McDermot
1996William Shakespeare's Romeo + JulietTed Montague
1998Dish DogsFrost
1999The VirtuosoUnknown
1999Out of the ColdDavid Bards
1999Silicon TowersUnknown
2001Summer CatchJohn Schiffner
2001Warden of Red RockSheriff ChurchTelevision movie
2001Three Blind MiceMatthew Hope
2002Stolen SummerFather Kelly
2002Code Yellow: Hospital at Ground ZeroNarrator
2002Drawing First BloodHimselfShort film
2004She Hate MeChairman Billy Church
2005Assault on Precinct 13Jasper O'Shea
2005Tommy Boy: Behind the LaughterHimselfShort film
200510th and WolfHorvath
2006The Ultimate GiftGus
2006Everyone's HeroBabe RuthVoice
2007War Eagle, ArkansasUnknown
2008Righteous KillLt. Hingus
2009Factory 9Unknown
2010AllegedClarence Darrow
2010The Next Three DaysGeorge Brennan
2010Meet Monica VelourPop Pop
2010Every DayErnie
2011The Big YearRaymond Harris


1977KojakPeter ConnorEpisode: "The Godson"
1977Johnny, We Hardly Knew YeLongshoremanTelevision movie
1977It Happened at Lakewood ManorFire ChiefTelevision movie
1977Lou GrantWilsonEpisode: "Nazi"
1977M*A*S*HErnie ConnorsEpisode: "Souvenirs"
1978A Real American HeroBuford PusserTelevision movie
1978PearlSgt. Otto Chain3 episodes
1978DallasLuther FrickEpisode: "Winds of Vengeance"
1978Ruby and OswaldGeorge PaulsenTelevision movie
1978A Death in CanaanBarney ParsonsTelevision movie
1979DummyRagotiTelevision movie
1979Big Shamus, Little ShamusArnie Sutter2 episodes
1979The Jericho MileDr. DTelevision movie
1979Silent Victory: The Kitty O'Neil StoryMr. O'NeilTelevision movie
1980A Rumor of WarSgt. Ned ColemanTelevision movie
1980The Seduction of Miss LeonaBliss DawsonTelevision movie
1981DynastyDA Jake Dunham5 episodes
1981DarkroomRolandEpisode: "Make-Up"
1981SkokieChief Arthur BuchananTelevision movie
1981Fly Away HomeTim ArnoldTelevision movie
1982Star of the FamilyLeslie Krebs10 episodes
1983I Take These MenPhil ZakarianTelevision movie
1983Blood FeudEdward Grady PartinTelevision movie
1984Cagney and LaceyMichael MacGruderEpisode: "The Bounty Hunter"
1984HunterDr. BolinEpisode: "Hunter"
1984Off SidesSgt. CheeverTelevision movie
1985EvergreenMatthew Malone3 episodes
1985The Last Place on EarthFrederick Cook2 episodes
1986Acceptable RisksDon SheppardTelevision movie
1987The Lion of AfricaSam MarshTelevision movie
1987Miami ViceReverend Billy Bob ProverbEpisode: "Amen...Send Money"
1988A Father's RevengePaul HobartTelevision movie
1989Day OneGeneral Leslie GrovesTelevision movie
1989Perfect WitnessJames FalconTelevision movie
1990A Killing in a Small TownEd ReiversTelevision movie
1990Rising SonGus RobinsonTelevision movie
1990Pride and Extreme PrejudiceBruno MorenzTelevision movie
1991In Broad DaylightLen RowanTelevision movie
1992The Diamond FleeceLt. Merritt OutlawTelevision movie
1992Teamster Boss: The Jackie Presser StoryJackie PresserTelevision movie
1992To Catch a KillerJohn Wayne GacyTelevision movie
1992The Burden of ProofDixon HartnellTelevision movie
1992Deadly MatrimonySgt. Jack ReedTelevision movie
1993Foreign AffairsChuck MumpsonTelevision movie
1993Prophet of Evil: The Ervil LeBaron StoryErvil LaBaronTelevision movie
1993Final AppealPerry SundquistTelevision movie
1993Jack Reed: Badge of HonorJack ReedTelevision movie
1993Murder in the HeartlandJohn McCarthurTelevision movie
1994Leave of AbsenceSamTelevision movie
1994Midnight MovieJames BoyceTelevision movie
1994Jack Reed: A Search for JusticeJack ReedTelevision movie
1994BirdlandDr. Brian McKenzie4 episodes
1995Jack Reed: One of Our OwnJack ReedTelevision movie
1995Shadow of a DoubtCharlie SloanTelevision movie
1996Dead Man's WalkMajor Chvallie2 episodes
1996Jack Reed: A Killer Among UsJack ReedTelevision movie
1996Jack Reed: Death and VengeanceJack ReedTelevision movie
1996A Season in PurgatoryGerald BradlyTelevision movie
1996Undue InfluencePaul MadrianiTelevision movie
1996NostromoJoshua C. Holyrod4 episodes
1997Indefensible: The Truth About Edward BranniganEddie BranniganTelevision movie
1998–2003Just Shoot MeRed Finch4 episodes
1998Voyage of TerrorU.S. PresidentTelevision movie
1998Thanks of a Grateful NationSenator RiegleTelevision movie
1999NetforceLowell DavidsonTelevision movie
1999SirensLt. DenbyTelevision movie
1999Too Rich: The Secret Life of Doris DukeLouis BromfieldTelevision movie
2000Fail SafeGen. BoganTelevision movie
2000Death of a SalesmanWilly LomanTelevision movie
2001The Fighting FitzgeraldsFitzgerald10 episodes
2002A Season on the BrinkBobby KnightTelevision movie
2003The Roman Spring of Mrs. StoneTom StoneTelevision movie
2004Category 6: Day of DestructionAndy GoodmanTelevision movie
2005Our FathersFather Dominic SpagnoliaTelevision movie
2005The ExoneratedGary GaugerTelevision movie
2005The West WingSenator Rafe FraminghamEpisode: "Ninety Miles Away"
2007Law and Order: Special Victims UnitJudsonEpisode: "Scheherezade"
2007Marco PoloKublai KhanTelevision movie
2007Masters of Science FictionBedzykEpisode: "The Discarded"
200830 RockMickey JEpisode: "Sandwich Day"
2009Rules of EngagementRoyEpisode: "Dad's Visit"
2010Rizzoli & IslesDetective Kenny LeahyEpisode: "Boston Strangler Redux"
2012The Good WifeBucky2 episodes
2013The ChallengerChairman William RogersTelevision movie
2013The Big CMr. TolkeyEpisode: "The Finale"

Awards and nominations[edit]

YearAssociationCategoryNominated workResult
1990Primetime Emmy AwardsOutstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a MovieA Killing in a Small TownNominated
1992Primetime Emmy AwardsOutstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a MovieThe Burden of ProofNominated
1992Primetime Emmy AwardsOutstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a MovieTo Catch a KillerNominated
1993Primetime Emmy AwardsOutstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a MovieMurder in the HeartlandNominated
1994CableACE AwardsBest Actor in a Miniseries or a MovieForeign AffairsWon
1997Satellite AwardsBest Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television FilmA Season of PurgatoryNominated
1999Drama Desk AwardsOutstanding Actor in a PlayDeath of a SalesmanWon
1999Satellite AwardsBest Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television FilmThanks of a Grateful NationNominated
1999Tony AwardsBest Actor in a PlayDeath of a SalesmanWon
2000Primetime Emmy AwardsOutstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a MovieDeath of a SalesmanNominated
2001Golden Globe AwardsBest Actor – Miniseries or Television FilmDeath of a SalesmanWon
2001Producers Guild AwardsOutstanding Producer of Long-Form TelevisionDeath of a SalesmanWon
2001Screen Actors Guild AwardsOutstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television MovieDeath of a SalesmanWon
2003Drama Desk AwardsOutstanding Actor in a PlayLong Day's Journey Into NightNominated
2003Tony AwardsBest Actor in a PlayLong Day's Journey Into NightWon
2005Primetime Emmy AwardsOutstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a MovieOur FathersNominated
2005Satellite AwardsBest Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television FilmOur FathersNominated


  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". Time Out. Retrieved June 24, 2010. "I come from an Irish Catholic family,..." 
  4. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (April 23, 1989). "FILM; For Brian Dennehy, Character Tells All". The New York Times. Retrieved June 24, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Don't Tell Glenna Whitley You're a Vet if You Ain't. Because She Knows. We're Lookin' at You, Brian Dennehy". Dallas Observer. April 12, 2007. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Exclusive: Brian Dennehy Lands "Meaty" Sitcom Role". TV Guide. 2008. Retrieved September 4, 2008. 
  8. ^ "Brian Dennehy's IMDB profile". Retrieved March 20, 2009. 
  9. ^ "IFTA nominations for Farrell & Gleeson". RTÉ. January 8, 2009. Retrieved January 8, 2009. 
  10. ^ Ahearn, Victoria (March 12, 2009). "Brian Dennehy narrates film on Toronto's role in Irish famine". The Star. Retrieved March 20, 2009. 
  11. ^ a b "The Bull in winter". The Irish Times. January 1, 2011. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Fintan O'Toole (January 1, 2011). "Real-life dramas? We don't do those. But John B Keane did". The Irish Times. 
  14. ^ Emer O'Kelly (January 23, 2011). "The ignoble passions of The Field fail to ignite". 
  15. ^ Bullen, Robert (May 8, 2012). "Goodman's Iceman Cometh, Starring Nathan Lane, Chills to the Core". Huffington Post. 
  16. ^ Brucie, Dylan (March 2007). "Ultimate Spider-Man". Wizard Xtra!. p. 117.

External links[edit]