Brian Dennehy

Brian Dennehy Biography


Brian Mannion Dennehy (born July 9, 1938) is an American actor of film, stage, and television.

Early life

Dennehy was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the son of Hannah and Edward Dennehy, who was a wire service editor for the Associated Press; he has two brothers, Michael and Edward. Dennehy is of Irish ancestry and was raised Roman Catholic. 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.

He went on to attend Columbia on a football scholarship to major 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 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.


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 2008 episode of Rules of Engagement as the father of the main character, Jeff.

Dennehy has also narrated many television programs. He narrated Canadian-Irish docudrama Death or Canada.


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.

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.

In December 2010, he returned to Ireland to play the Bull McCabe in the Olympia Theater of Dublin's stage version of John B. Keane's The Field.

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.

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

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.

Personal life

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.



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 Blue Heat Unknown
1989 Georg Elser Wagner
1990 Indio Whytaker
1990 The Last of the Finest 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 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


Year Title Role Notes
1977 Kojak Peter Connor Episode: "The Godson"
1977 Lou Grant Wilson Episode: "Nazi"
1977 It Happened at Lakewood Manor Fire Chief Television movie
1977 M*A*S*H Ernie Connors Episode: "Souvenirs"
1977 Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye Longshoreman Television movie
1978 'Pearl Sgt. Otto Chain 3 episodes
1978 Dallas Luther Frick Episode: "Winds of Vengeance"
1978 A Real American Hero Buford Pusser Television movie
1978 A Death in Canaan Barney Parsons Television movie
1978 Ruby and Oswald George Paulsen 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 'Skokie Chief Arthur Buchanan Television movie
1981 Fly Away Home Tim Arnold Television movie
1981 Darkroom Roland Episode: "Make-Up"
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 Off Sides Sgt. Cheever Television movie
1984 Hunter Dr. Bolin Episode: "Hunter"
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
Nominated-Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a 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
Nominated-Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
1992 The Burden of Proof Dixon Hartnell Television movie
Nominated-Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
1992 Deadly Matrimony Sgt. Jack Reed Television movie
1993 Foreign Affairs Chuck Mumpson Television movie
CableACE Award for Best Actor in a Movie or Miniseries
1993 Prophet of Evil: The Ervin LaBaron 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
Nominated-Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
1994 Birdland Dr. Brian McKenzie 4 episodes
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
1995 Jack Reed: One of Our Own Jack Reed Television movie
1995 Shadow of a Doubt Charlie Sloan Television movie
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
Nominated-Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor - Series, Miniseries or Television Film
1996 Dead Man's Walk Major Chvallie 2 episodes
1996 Undue Influence Paul Madriani Television movie
1997 Nostromo Joshua C. Holyrod Television movie
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
Nominated-Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor - Series, Miniseries or Television Film
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
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Miniseries or Television Film
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie
Nominated-Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
2001 Warden of Red Rock Sheriff Church Television movie
2001 The Fighting Fitzgerald 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 The Exonerated Gary Gauger Television movie
2005 The West Wing Senator Rafe Framingham Episode: "Ninety Miles Away"
2005 Our Fathers Father Dominic Spagnolia Television movie
Nominated-Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
Nominated-Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor - Series, Miniseries or Television Film
2007 Law and Order: Special Victims Unit Judson Episode: "Scheherezade"
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"

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