In a career that stretched across many decades, Brian Dennehy won two Tonys, a Golden Globe, and was nominated for six Emmys. Sadly, TMZ reports Dennehy passed away on Wednesday in Connecticut. According to their sources, Dennehy “passed of natural causes and there will not be an official autopsy.” Dennehy was 81 years old.

Dennehy appeared in dozens of films and shows starting in the 1970s and continuing until last year. After stints in the Marines, studying drama at Yale, and even working as a stockbroker in New York, he began doing guest spots on TV shows. In 1982, he got his big break in film playing Sheriff Teasle, the small-town cop who antagonizes Sylvester Stallone’s John Rambo in the original First Blood. 

His superb performance in First Blood brought him wider recognition, and roles in Silverado, Legal EaglesPresumed Innocent, and Cocoon soon followed. With Bryan Brown, he was also one of the two leads in the underrated F/X movie series, about a special effects artist (Brown) who gets mixed up with a New York cop (Dennehy). In 1995, he played another of his best-known roles as Big Tom Callahan, the father of Chris Farley’s character in Tommy Boy.

Recent movie roles included Knight of Cups and the voice of Django, Remy’s father, in Ratatouille. On television, Dennehy earned numerous Emmy nominations for his work on TV movies like To Catch a Killer and Murder in the Heartland. But Dennehy’s most critically acclaimed work may have come on the stage. In 1999, he starred in a hugely successful revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Dennehy won his first (well-deserved) Tony Award for his turn as Willy Loman. (A few years later, he won another Tony for the 2003 revival of Long Day’s Journey Into Night.)

Roles like Willy Loman really showed up Dennehy’s unique talents. He had a big, burly physicality, and a booming voice to match. But he could also convey incredible vulnerability that became all the more poignant because of his size. He projected so much strength, that when he revealed the fragility underneath all of the bluster, it would break your heart. (Tommy Boy is a great example of that.) He was one of the great character actors of his era. He will be deeply missed.

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