Brian Dennehy Dead: What Was 'Tommy Boy,' 'First Blood' Star's Cause of Death?

Actor Brian Dennehy, who was well known for his roles in Tommy Boy, First Blood and Cocoon, died this week at the age of 81. Dennehy's daughter, Elizabeth, announced Thursday afternoon that the beloved regular-guy actor died Wednesday night in Connecticut, making it clear that he passed of natural causes — not an illness brought on by the novel coronavirus, despite the ongoing global pandemic.

"It is with heavy hearts we announce that our father, Brian passed away last night from natural causes, not Covid-related," Elizabeth tweeted alongside a black and white photo of her father. "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."

brian-dennehy_getty-D Dipasupil : Contributor
(Photo: D Dipasupil / Contributor / Getty, Getty)

Dennehy's wide-ranging career spanned works in movies, television and the theater, which includes a Tony Award-winning role as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman in 1999 and 2003. In 1982's First Blood, Dennehy played the sheriff in Washington state who doggedly pursues Vietnam veteran John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone); he memorably played Chris Farley's dad in 1995's Tommy Boy; and in 1985 was the friendly alien leader Walter in Cocoon. In 1990, fans watched him act next to Harrison Ford as a district attorney who's out to save his own skin in Presumed Innocent. He's also well known for starring in TV movies as fiery basketball coach Bobby Knight in the 2002 ESPN movie A Season on the Brink, as well as serial killer John Wayne Gacy in Fox's To Catch a Killer — for which he earned one of his five Emmy nominations.


He also starred as hard-charging real-life Chicago detective Jack Reed in five NBC telefilms from 1993-96, writing and directing four of them. More recently, Dennehy had recurring roles as an Irish mob boss on Public Morals, a sheriff on Hap and Leonard and a KGB agent on The Blacklist.

Dennehy often retreated to the stage in Chicago, saying to The Hollywood Reporter he preferred the Midwest "because I can sit down with rational people who make $50,000 a year and live in houses and have children and pay their taxes and shop at Sears." He said he chose to live on a farm in northeast Connecticut because the biggest celebrity in his town was the man who played Big Bird. Dennehy is survived by his second wife and his children Elizabeth, Kathleen, Deirdre, Cormac and Sarah.