Following the death of Brian Dennehy in mid-April 2020, Sylvester Stallone shared a touching tribute to the 81-year-old actor on Instagram. Stallone wrote of his First Blood co-star’s passing, “The great actor Brian Dennehy has passed away. He simply was A brilliant performer … The world has lost a great artist.” On Twitter, the actor added, “He also was a Vietnam vet that helped me very much building the character of RAMBO.”
In First Blood, Dennehy played local sheriff Will Teasle, who captures Stallone’s character Rambo, a traumatized former soldier, as he searches for a lost friend after the Vietnam War in a small town. Rambo eventually breaks free, leading to a manhunt with Teasle that drives the plot of the 1982 film, per MovieWeb.com.
While the first movie in the Rambo franchise might be one of his most memorable roles, Dennehy had a lengthy and successful career in Hollywood and was beloved by many.
Brian Dennehy was beloved by other Hollywood stars
Brian Dennehy died on April 15, 2020 of natural causes, per NBC News. Specifically, his agent told the Chicago Tribune that Dennehy passed from cardiac arrest due to sepsis. Dennehy’s daughter, Elizabeth, announced the passing on Twitter on behalf of their family with “heavy hearts,” writing, “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.”
The condolences and tributes soon poured in for the late actor, and the range of celebs who mourned his loss is a testament to Dennehy’s storied career in theater, television, and film. Nancy Sinatra, for example, responded to Elizabeth’s tweet by writing, “I’m so sorry you lost your wonderful father and I hope all of your memories will sustain you and see you through this most difficult time. The world loved him too.”
Mia Farrow tweeted a tribute to Dennehy, saying, “Just devastated to learn that the magnificent Brian Dennehy has died. [There] is no one i enjoyed working with more. And there are few friends as valued in my life. I took this photo backstage when we were in Love Letters. He loved my pup Bowie.” Russell Crowe also tweeted that Dennehy was “good company” and a “fine actor.”
Brian Dennehy learned to act by working odd jobs
Brian Dennehy’s career is all the more impressive considering that he didn’t really get his first big break until his early 30s, per Newsweek. As a child of Irish immigrants, acting wasn’t supposed to be a career he would pursue. His father, who was a journalist for the Associated Press, wanted him to become a lawyer.
“Anyone raised in a first or second-generation immigrant family knows that you are expected to advance the ball down the field. Acting didn’t qualify in any way,” Dennehy said in a 1999 interview with a Columbia University alumni magazine. And he did end up going into the field in a roundabout way.
After returning from the Vietnam War, Dennehy worked as a bartender, truck driver, and stockbroker, which would be vital for his future as an actor. He told the New York Times in 1989 that the harried period of his life was like an apprenticeship for the stage. “I learned firsthand how a truck driver lives, what a bartender does, how a salesman thinks. I had to make a life inside those jobs, not just pretend,” he said. He put all of the acquired knowledge to good use in his many, many roles.
Brian Dennehy was one of Hollywood's greats
Brian Dennehy — who stood at 6’3″ — was known for his equally looming on-screen presence, with upwards of 200 acting credits on his IMDB profile. His career began in the late 1970s with smaller roles on television and movies; First Blood was the role that really propelled him into the spotlight.
Dennehy starred in well-loved films such as Cocoon, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, Tommy Boy, and Gladiator, among others. He was most recently also the voice of Django in Ratatouille and played Dominic Wilkinson in NBC’s The Blacklist. He was also a successful stage actor, winning two Tony Awards for his roles as James Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night and Willy Loman in the 1999 revival of Death of a Salesman.
Helen Shaw wrote of his incredible acting career in Vulture, “You could depend on Brian Dennehy. It seemed as if those ox-yoke shoulders would always be somewhere in a trench coat, hulking over a crime scene. Hollywood will miss him.” It’s clear from the outpouring from his former co-stars, especially Sylvester Stallone, that there are large shoes to fill without him.
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