Dennehy, Brian

Dennehy, Brian
▪ 2000

      In June 1999 Brian Dennehy received a Tony Award for his portrayal of Willy Loman, the lead role in the 50th-anniversary Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. The 60-year-old American actor, whose body of work spanned several decades and included a long list of film, television, and stage productions, was applauded for his depiction of Loman's erosion in a play that continued to evoke strong audience response five decades after its first performance.

      Dennehy was born July 9, 1938, in Bridgeport, Conn. Whereas his large size had made him a natural on the football field, he was encouraged by a teacher to pursue his interest in acting, and he appeared in his high school's production of Macbeth. Following graduation he attended Columbia University, New York City, on a football scholarship. He left Columbia in 1959, but his acting career was postponed by a five-year stint in the U.S. Marine Corps. He served briefly in Vietnam but returned to the states following a shrapnel injury.

      In the next decade he acted and held a number of other jobs, working at various times as a waiter, a bartender, a truck driver, and a motel clerk. He was nearly 40 years old by the time he broke into motion pictures, playing the role of a football player in Semi-Tough (1977). His film career took off soon after, with a number of small parts in the late 1970s followed by larger roles, such as the sheriff in First Blood, the earliest of the “Rambo” movies, in 1982. By 1999 he had appeared in some 40 pictures, playing both villains and heroes. During his busiest period, in the 1980s and early 1990s, his work included Gorky Park (1983), Silverado (1985), Cocoon (1985), F/X (1986), Legal Eagles (1986), and Presumed Innocent (1990). He also played the lead role in an art film, The Belly of an Architect (1987), for which he received a Chicago Film Festival award for best actor.

      Throughout his career Dennehy worked steadily in television, appearing in miniseries, movies, a few short-lived series, and a number of episodic roles. His TV work in 1999 included appearances on the sitcom Just Shoot Me! and a part in the miniseries Netforce, which was based on the novel by Tom Clancy. Prior to Death of a Salesman, Dennehy acted in a number of other theatre productions, among them Rat in the Skull (1985), Galileo (1986), The Cherry Orchard (1988), The Iceman Cometh (1990–91), Translations (1995), and A Touch of the Poet (1996).

Sandra Langeneckert

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Universalium. 2010.

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