This afternoon, I’ve seen several media outlets that, in articles about his death at age 81, refer to Brian Dennehy as an actor known for “Tommy Boy.”
Shame on them.
Dennehy was a prolific performer with dozens of credits better than the 1995 Chris Farley vehicle. In fact, starting in the mid-1980s, he had starring or supporting roles in two or three really good movies a year, and kept it up for at least couple of decades. To name just a few of his better big-screen projects: “Cocoon,” “Silverado,” “F/X,” “Foul Play,” “Legal Eagles,” and “Presumed Innocent.”
He also did tons of work on stage and television, including a TV movie version of “Death Of A Salesman,” which he filmed after playing Willy Loman on Broadway and in a national tour. It earned him multiple awards. Even when he appeared in sub-par entertainment, Dennehy was one of those actors you could count on to lift the material to a higher level. He couldn’t save a bad movie, but he was never bad in a movie.
Unfortunately, as good as he was performing words written by others, Dennehy wasn’t a great guest. I only chatted with him once on my radio show, either during the “Death Of A Salesman” or “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” stage tour. I was excited to have him on because I respected his work so much, but getting him to share interesting anecdotes was like pulling teeth.
Still, for a long time, he was a go-to gold standard for both Hollywood and Broadway, and anyone who saw him — in anything — recognized why.