Brian Dennehy, Veteran Stage and Screen Actor, Dies Aged 81

We thank Gena, Maurice and Con for alerting us to this very sad news of the passing to his Eternal Reward of Gentleman supreme who was so very proud of his Millstreet roots – Brian Dennehy, R.I.P. (His grandfather was Denis Dennehy, born in 1888 at Green’s Lane, and later of Church Street, across from the Star Ballroom, and emigrated in 1906).  When Brian arrived in Millstreet in the early 1990s Noel C. Duggan arranged a magnificent get together with all of Brian’s Millstreet relatives.   Brian invited us later to his performance of Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh” at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre where in the Theatre Bar after the Show he accorded us a royal welcome and when he met Seán Cronin (to whom he was related) for the very first time he could not believe the close family resemblance he witnessed.   Brian and members of his wonderful Family stayed at Mallow Castle when he visited Millstreet for that complete Bank Holiday Monday in the early 1990s and wrote in Millstreet Museum’s Visitors Book having spent some 90 minutes there – “The Wild Geese have returned!”  We, here in Millstreet, extend heartfelt sympathy to the Dennehy Family at this very sad time.   Brian was always so very welcoming, approachable, supremely talented …. and so very proud of his Millstreet roots.   We were privileged to have known Brian.  May he rest in peace.   Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.  (S.R.) Sincere thanks to Michael for lots of additional material adding greatly to our Tribute to Brian.

Veteran actor Brian Dennehy, known for roles on stage and on screen, has died aged 81.

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

Dennehy was known on the big screen for roles in films such as Cocoon, Presumed Innocent, Tommy Boy, Romeo + Juliet and Gorky Park. His breakthrough role was opposite Sylvester Stallone in First Blood.

He was also a celebrated stage presence, winning two Tony awards for Death of a Salesman in 1999 and Long Day’s Journey Into Night in 2003. Dennehy also won a Golden Globe for the miniseries of Death of a Salesman. He was long associated with the Goodman Theatre in Chicago for his many performances in adapted works of Eugene O’Neill. His last appearance on stage was in 2016’s White Rabbit Red Rabbit.

“Theatre is something that I’ve always enjoyed and that I care about,” Dennehy said in 2016. “But as you get older, it is harder and harder to do, but it’s always worthwhile.”

One of Brian’s most famous films.

We interviewed Brian in 2011 after his superb performance in “The Field” at the INEC in Killarney.

Brian was on the Late Late Show in 2011 when he mentioned his visit to Millstreet and meeting Noel C. Duggan, and his grandfather Denis who emigrated to Massachusetts about 1906, aged 18:

Tubridy: And you had plenty of connections with the place down there.
Dennehy: Well as it turns out, Noel C Duggan who is a wonderful guy from Millstreet which is where my grandfather was from, did a whole bunch of research and called us one day to let us know that my great-grandmother (my grandfathers mother) was from Kilmackowen which is about 2 miles from Ardgroom, and somehow we had found this place which was about 2 miles or so where she lived in the 1850’s.
… …
Tubridy: Was it your grandfather who left Ireland, Brian
Dennehy: Yeah, my grandfather was Denis Dennehy from Millstreet
Tubridy: did he train for the priesthood, was it..
Dennehy: no that was my father. My grandfather was a bit like the Bull McCabe. He was not necessarily interested in the intellectual life. He worked in a factory in Bridgeport for his whole life, and he came at a very young age, he and all of his brothers and sisters came, and never went back! so he would write to his mother and talk to her on the telephone, but he would not go back cos he was very bitter about being forced to leave. But he was happy in Bridgeport but he could not understand why my father wanted to be educated, so my father did a really interesting thing Ed Dennehy: he told everyone that he wanted to become a priest, and in those days which would have been  the late 20’s, when you said that, you were plucked out of school and sent to college and seminary which he did do and he was so smart he wound up at the American University of Louvain in Belgium studying with Cardinal Mercier, until the time came when he had to go and lay down on the altar and he said “I’ve changed my mind … I don’t have a vocation at all”, and within two years I was on the scene. But he was an amazing guy and a real genuine intellectual, and my grandfather was the exact opposite, but he was one of those people when you’re an American Irishmen, you look back at those that took that great leap out in the 19th century as he did when he was very young … can you imagine leaving your home, your mother and father at age 15 or 16 and just throwing the dice. Extraordinary people, we got some good ones and fortunately he was one of them …

More on Brian and the Dennehy Family in this article.

With thanks to all the people who contacted us about his death. Rebecca, Margaret, Mike, Brian, Ann, Christine, Jerome, Patrick …
We were all very proud that someone connected to Millstreet did so well in the movie business. 



Brian and his daughter Elizabeth at his grandfather’s house at Church Street  (across from the Star Ballroom) in 1992 (i+):



1982: Rambo – First Blood (his big break)











Southern Star: Beara grieves for its friend Brian Dennehy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.