Brian Dennehy, the versatile actor whose work carried him across stage and screens both big and small for decades, died today at the age of 81. His daughter, Elizabeth Dennehy, confirmed the news in a tweet on Wednesday, saying, “It is with heavy hearts we announce that our father, Brian passed away last night from natural causes, not Covid-related. 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.” Perhaps most widely known for his film roles in hits like First Blood in 1982 and 1995’s Tommy Boy, Dennehy’s career started on television in the 1970s, when he took bit parts in culture touchstones like Kojak, Serpico, and M*A*S*H. He would continue to work in TV throughout his career, and garnered six Emmy nominations for his work in limited series like Murder in the Heartland, and in television movies like To Catch a Killer, in which he played the serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
Dennehy’s first feature-film role came in 1977 with Looking for Mr. Goodbar, and he would go on to appear in hits such as Cocoon and Silverado. He provided the voice of Django the rat in Pixar’s Ratatouille, and worked clear through the last years of his life, with a recurring role on NBC’s The Blacklist that ran through 2019 and multiple films listed as being in postproduction.
Recognizable as he was in film and TV, Dennehy was also a very successful stage actor, winning two Tonys. The first came for his 1999 turn as the iconic Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, and the second in 2003 for a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. He interpreted the works of O’Neill many times, appearing also in productions of Desire Under the Elms, The Iceman Cometh, Hughie, and A Touch of the Poet.
He died on Wednesday in New Haven, Connecticut.