Burly Character Actor Brian Dennehy Dies at 81


Mike Piscitelli
Brian Dennehy

The two-time Tony winner also starred on TV as basketball coach Bobby Knight, Chicago cop Jack Reed and serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

Brian Dennehy, the regular-guy actor whose bulldog build, good-guy demeanor and no-nonsense approach meshed in an array of memorable roles for film, television and the theater, has died. He was 81.

Dennehy died Wednesday night of natural causes in New Haven, Connecticut.

“It is with heavy hearts we announce that our father, Brian passed away last night from natural causes, not Covid-related,” his oldest daughter, actress Elizabeth Dennehy, wrote on Twitter. “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.”

Dennehy played the sheriff in Washington state who doggedly pursues Vietnam veteran John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) in First Blood (1982) and a district attorney who’s out to save his own skin in the Harrison Ford-starrer Presumed Innocent (1990).

He also portrayed lawmen in Gorky Park (1983), Silverado (1985), F/X (1986) and its sequel, Best Seller (1987), The Last of the Finest (1990) and Assault on Precinct 13 (2005) and starred as hard-charging real-life Chicago detective Jack Reed in five NBC telefilms from 1993 to 1996, writing and directing four of them.

At 6 foot 3 and 250 pounds, the former college offensive lineman could also be a gentle giant, as when he portrayed the sympathetic bartender who counsels Dudley Moore in 10 (1979), the friendly alien leader Walter in Cocoon (1985) and Chris Farley’s pop in Tommy Boy (1995).



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