Brian Dennehy, Tony and Golden Globe Winning Actor, Dies at 81

The star of films like “Cocoon” and “Tommy Boy” died of natural causes, his family says

brian dennehy
Photo: Mike Piscitelli

Brian Dennehy, the Golden Globe- and Tony Award-winning actor who appeared in big-screen hits like “Cocoon” and “Tommy Boy,” died late Wednesday in New Haven, Connecticut, at the age of 81, his representatives told TheWrap.

He died of natural causes says his family who was by his side. Best known for playing the overzealous Sheriff Will Teasle in “First Blood” (1982) opposite Sylvester Stallone, Dennehy went on to have a prolific acting career that included roles in such films as “Gorky Park” (1983), “Silverado” (1985), “Cocoon” (1985), “F/X”(1986), “Presumed Innocent” (1990), “Romeo + Juliet” (1996), and “Knight of Cups” (2015).

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.”

His earlier films included several comedies, like “Semi-Tough” with Burt Reynolds, “Foul Play” with Chevy Chase, and “10” with Dudley Moore. He portrayed a corrupt sheriff in the Western “Silverado” and an alien in “Cocoon,” both released in 1985.

One of his best well-known roles came in the 1995 Chris Farley-David Spade comedy “Tommy Boy” as Big Tom Callahan, the father of Farley’s misfit. Dennehy also had a voice role in the animated movie “Ratatouille” as Django, father of the rat chef Remy.

Dennehy was a fixture on the stage as well, winning two Tony Awards. He first won in 2000 for playing Willy Loman in a revival of “Death of a Salesman” — a role that earned him a SAG Award and a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film for a subsequent filmed version.

A second Tony Award came in 2003, for his lead performance in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” opposite Vanessa Redgrave, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Robert Sean Leonard. In 2010, he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.

In his long career, Dennehy won a Laurence Olivier Award for his work on the London stage and six Primetime Emmy nominations for TV movies, including two in 1992 alone: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie for his performance as John Wayne Gacy in “To Catch a Killer,” and Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie, for “The Burden of Proof.”

A native of Bridgeport, Connecticut, Dennehy enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1958 and served on Okinawa until 1963. He has been married twice and has five children, including actress Elizabeth Dennehy.