Brian Dennehy, veteran stage and screen actor, dies aged 81

<span>Photograph: Ronald Grant</span>
Photograph: Ronald Grant

Veteran actor Brian Dennehy, known for roles on stage and on screen, has died aged 81.

“It is with heavy hearts we announce that our father, Brian passed away last night from natural causes, not Covid-related,” his daughter Elizabeth tweeted. “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.”

Dennehy was known on the big screen for roles in films such as Cocoon, Presumed Innocent, Tommy Boy, Romeo + Juliet and Gorky Park. His breakthrough role was opposite Sylvester Stallone in First Blood.

He was also a celebrated stage presence, winning two Tony awards for Death of a Salesman in 1999 and Long Day’s Journey Into Night in 2003. Dennehy also won a Golden Globe for the miniseries of Death of a Salesman. He was long associated with the Goodman Theatre in Chicago for his many performances in adapted works of Eugene O’Neill. His last appearance on stage was in 2016’s White Rabbit Red Rabbit.

“Theatre is something that I’ve always enjoyed and that I care about,” Dennehy said in 2016. “But as you get older, it is harder and harder to do, but it’s always worthwhile.”

Brian Dennehy Death of a Salesman in 2005
Brian Dennehy in Death of a Salesman in 2005. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Dennehy also amassed six Emmy nominations throughout his career, most recently in 2005 for sexual abuse drama Our Fathers. He was also known for roles in The West Wing, 30 Rock, The Good Wife and Miami Vice.

Most recently he was seen in the NBC crime series The Blacklist and he will be seen posthumously on the big screen in Son of the South.

“I don’t look like an actor, I don’t sound like an actor, I’m just another person,” Dennehy said in 2018. “Which really is the whole point of acting, is trying to be just another person.”

Tributes have arrived on Twitter from celebrities, including William Shatner, John Cusack, Michael McKean and Mia Farrow.

“I’ve had a hell of a ride,” Dennehy also said in 2018. “I have a nice house. I haven’t got a palace, a mansion, but a pretty nice, comfortable home. I’ve raised a bunch of kids and sent them all to school, and they’re all doing well. All the people that are close to me are reasonably healthy and happy. Listen, that’s as much as anybody can hope for in life.”

Dennehy is survived by his wife, the costume designer Jennifer Arnott, and his five children, Elizabeth, Kathleen, Deirdre, Cormac and Sarah.