April 17, 2020
Character Actor known for the films First Blood and Cocoon, and in his stage work a genuine colossus
Brian Dennehy obituary
Built like a truck but with the capacity to be as gentle as a pussycat, Brian Dennehy was smarter than the average bear-like character actor. The 6ft 3in performer, who has died aged 81 from a heart attack resulting from sepsis, made his screen breakthrough as an adversarial small-town sheriff in First Blood (1982), the thoughtful opening instalment in what would become the Rambo action series. It was the first in his hat-trick of hits from that decade: he also twinkled benignly as one of a group of aliens who have a rejuvenating effect on an elderly community in Cocoon (1985) and played a grizzled but amiable cop in F/X (1986), an enjoyable thriller set in the special effects industry; it was popular enough to spawn a 1991 sequel in which he also starred.
Unusually for a character actor, he had a handful of movie leads, including The Belly of an Architect (1987), a rare foray into arthouse cinema. Dennehy’s extraordinary range, from cowering vulnerability to a fury fit to scare the gods, was given full rein in the British director Peter Greenaway’s otherwise austere tale of an esteemed architect dying of stomach cancer; the critic Janet Maslin called it “one of the best things” the actor had done. He also gave a complex and probing performance as the serial killer John Wayne Gacy in the TV mini-series To Catch a Killer (1992).
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