Brian Dennehy, prolific stage and screen actor, dies at 81

Brian Dennehy, the burly actor who started in films as a macho heavy and later in his career won plaudits for his stage work in plays by William Shakespeare, Anton Chekhov, Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller, has died. He was 81. 

Dennehy died Wednesday night of natural causes in New Haven, Connecticut, his daughter, Elizabeth, said on Twitter.

Known for his broad frame, booming voice and ability to play good guys and bad guys with equal aplomb, Dennehy won two Tony Awards, a Golden Globe and was nominated for six Emmys. He was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2010.

Among his 40-odd films, he played a sheriff who jailed Rambo in “First Blood,” a serial killer in “To Catch a Killer,” and a corrupt sheriff gunned down by Kevin Kline in “Silverado.” He also had some benign roles: the bartender who consoles Dudley Moore in “10” and the levelheaded leader of aliens in “Cocoon” and its sequel.

“It took a long time for me to have any impact in the business because I didn’t look like an actor, I didn’t sound like an actor,” Dennehy told CBS “Sunday Morning” in 2007.

It was from his high school football coach/English teacher that he got his love of acting. He played tackle and Macbeth.

“A lot of people in the business say to me, ‘My god, you played Macbeth when you were 13 years old in front of a Catholic boys high school audience? That really took a lotta guts.’ And I always say, ‘Not nearly as much guts as the freshman who played Lady Macbeth.’ He really had a lot of guts!'” Dennehy said.

Dennehy went to Columbia University, played more football and served in the Marines before finally committing himself to the typical wannabe-actor’s life.

“I drove a cab, I worked in many bars and did lots of jobs that people did,” Dennehy said. “They were always disposable jobs because it was necessary to dispose of them if anything should happen.”

But it was the living he did in those disposable jobs that gave his acting authenticity — as the bartender in “10,” for example.

“I wasn’t pretending to be a bartender,” he said. “I had done it.”

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