The New Haven-residing Brian Dennehy has left the earth. Cardiac arrest, 81 years old. Respect and condolences for a gifted, passionate actor who cared more for the exaltation of great acting than whore paychecks.
Dennehy won two Best Actor Tony Awards, for his lead performances in Arthur Miller‘s Death of a Salesman (’99) and Eugene O’Neill‘s Long Day’s Journey into Night (’03) as well as a Golden Globe in 2000 for playing Willy Loman in a TV version of Death of a Salesman. Not to mention a Stratford Shakespeare Festival performance in Shakespeare‘s Twelfth Night plus a noteworthy stage turn in a Stratford production of Harold Pinter‘s The Homecoming.
Just eight years ago Dennehy played a supporting role (not Hickey) in a Goodman theatre production of Eugene O’Neill‘s The Iceman Cometh, and again when the production was revived in 2015 at the BAM Harvey Theater in Brooklyn.
How ironic that Dennehy’s best-known role was Will Teasle, an arrogant and rather bone-headed small-town sheriff in Ted Kotcheff‘s First Blood (’82) — a breakout role that launched his film career. Dennehy was 41 or thereabouts when the film was shot.
I’m not sure what Dennehy’s second-best-known film role was or is. You’d have to pick between the kindly alien in Ron Howard‘s Cocoon (’85) the lead role in Peter Greenaway‘s The Belly of an Architect (’87) or his Joseph Wambaugh-like novelist in John Flynn‘s Best-Seller (’87).
I’m sure I’m overlooking a half-dozen other choice performances, but for better or worse I keep coming back to his rural asshole performance in First Blood. Go figure.