Actor Brian Dennehy dead at 81

Brian Dennehy in 2009.

By Irish Echo Staff

The award winning Irish American actor, Brian Dennehy, has died at the age of 81.

His death was not due to Covid-19.

As a report in the New York Daily News put it: "Brian Dennehy played an ordinary man extraordinarily well."

The report added that the "burly everyman" had starred in films such as “Cocoon,” and Tommy Boy” and had won a pair of Tony Awards for his theater work.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

Dennehy died Wednesday in Connecticut from natural causes, his daughter announced on Twitter.

“It is with heavy hearts we announce that our father, Brian passed away last night from natural causes, not Covid-related,” actress Elizabeth Dennehy wrote Thursday.

"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.”

Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Dennehy later moved to Mineola, Long Island, then attended Columbia University where he played college football. After graduating he worked as a stockbroker for Merrill Lynch before getting into acting, where, as the News report stated, "he was a tremendous presence on stage and screen."

A decade ago, Dennehy was honored in New York by the Irish American Writers and Artists group with its Eugene O'Neill Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Echo's Peter McDermott reported at the time: In his acting career, Brian Dennehy has portrayed real-life people such as crusading attorney Clarence Darrow and serial killer John Wayne Gacy. He has won both a Golden Globe and Tony Award for playing Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” And he has been an interpreter of the work of Samuel Beckett.

But his special relationship to the plays of another Nobel Prize-winner will inevitably be invoked when he’s honored in New York City on Oct. 18 by the Irish-American Writers & Artists.

For Dennehy will on that night become the second recipient of the organization’s Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Bridgeport, Conn.-born actor has over the past decade starred in major productions of O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey in Night,” “Desire Under the Elms” and “Hughie.”

“It’s great to be honored as an actor, but it is especially gratifying to be honored as an actor in the O’Neill tradition,” said Dennehy.

Of his particular affinity for O’Neill’s work, Dennehy has said: “I think that my being Irish American, the grandson of a factory worker in Bridgeport, and my having been raised in a real Irish-American climate in Brooklyn and Long Island in the 1940s and ’50s goes a long way towards explaining it.”

“Few actors have had the kind of career Brian Dennehy has had,” said IAW&A co-founder T.J. English when announcing the award.

“For over 30 years, in movies, on television and on stage, he has come to embody an iconic image of a certain type of working-class American — the cop, the priest, the fireman, the soldier. Dennehy has brought nobility and passion to these roles and established himself as the dean of American actors.”

Dennehy was presented with the award at a reception and ceremony at Rosie O’Grady’s, just blocks from where Eugene O’Neill began life in a hotel on Oct. 16, 1888.

The inaugural winner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist William Kennedy, was honored at the same venue last year.