Brian Dennehy dead: ‘First Blood’ and ‘Cocoon’ actor and Tony-winning stage star, was 81

Brian Dennehy
Actor Brian Dennehy at the Mark Taper Forum in November 2013, when he starred in “The Steward of Christendom.”
(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

Brian Dennehy, the burly actor who started in films as a macho heavy and later in his career won plaudits for his stage work in plays by William Shakespeare, Anton Chekhov, Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller, has died. He was 81.

Dennehy died Wednesday night of natural causes in New Haven, Conn., according to Kate Cafaro of ICM Partners, the actor’s representatives.

Known for his broad frame, booming voice and ability to play good guys and bad guys with equal aplomb, Dennehy won two Tony Awards, a Golden Globe and was nominated for six Emmys. He was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2010.


Among his 40-odd films, he played a sheriff who jailed Rambo in “First Blood,” a serial killer in “To Catch a Killer” and a corrupt sheriff gunned down by Kevin Kline in “Silverado.” He also had some benign roles: the bartender who consoles Dudley Moore in “10” and the levelheaded leader of aliens in “Cocoon” and its sequel.

On Broadway, he was awarded Tonys for his portrayals of the hard-luck, economically despairing Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” (1999) and the grandstanding, self-deceiving father, James Tyrone, in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” (2003). In Los Angeles, he most recently starred in a fall 2018 double bill at Geffen Playhouse of O’Neill’s “Hughie” and Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape.”