Brian Dennehy, ‘Tommy Boy’ and ‘First Blood’ star, dies at 81

HARTFORD, Conn. — 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, Connecticut, 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 played Big Tom Callahan in the comedy “Tommy Boy.”

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.

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

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Dennehy was born July 9, 1938, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the first of three sons. His venture into acting began when he was 14 in New York City and a student at a Brooklyn high school. He acted the title role in “Macbeth.” He played football on a scholarship at Columbia University, and he served five years in the U.S. Marines.

Back in New York City in 1965, he pursued acting while working at side jobs. “I learned first-hand how a truck driver lives, what a bartender does, how a salesman thinks,” he told The New York Times in 1989. “I had to make a life inside those jobs, not just pretend.”

His parents — Ed Dennehy, an editor for The Associated Press in New York, and Hannah Dennehy, a nurse — could never understand why his son chose to act. “Anyone raised in a first or second-generation immigrant family knows that you are expected to advance the ball down the field,” Dennehy told Columbia College Today in 1999. “Acting didn’t qualify in any way.”

He worked deep into his 70s, in such projects as SundanceTV’s “Hap and Leonard,” the film “The Seagull” with Elisabeth Moss and Annette Bening and the play “Endgame” by Samuel Beckett at the Long Wharf Theatre. His last foray on Broadway was in “Love Letters” opposite Mia Farrow in 2014.

He is survived by his second wife, costume designer Jennifer Arnott and their two children, Cormac and Sarah. He also is survived by three daughters — Elizabeth, Kathleen and Deirdre — from a previous marriage to Judith Scheff.