Actor Dennis Farina, a former Chicago policeman who played a TV cop on Law & Order during his wide-ranging career, has died at the age of 69.
His publicist, Lori de Waal said he died in hospital in Scottsdale, Arizona, after suffering a blood clot in his lung.
For three decades, Farina was a character actor who displayed remarkable dexterity, charm and toughness, making effective use of his craggy face, husky frame, ivory smile and ample mustache. He could be as dapper as Fred Astaire and as full of threat as Clint Eastwood. His gift has been described as wry, tough-guy panache, and audiences loved him for it.
“Sometimes you can take those dramatic roles and maybe interject a little humour into them, and I think the reverse also works,” he said in a 2007 interview with the Associated Press. “One of the funny things in life to me is a guy who takes himself very seriously.”
Farina’s many films include Saving Private Ryan (1998), Out Of Sight (1998), Midnight Run (1988), Manhunter (1986), and his breakout and perhaps most beloved film Get Shorty (1995), a comedic romp in which he played a Miami mob boss.
He recently completed shooting a comedy film, Lucky Stiff.
Among his numerous TV roles was Detective Joe Fontana on Law & Order during the 2004-06 seasons, replacing long-time cast member Jerry Orbach.
Law & Order executive producer Dick Wolf said he was “stunned and saddened to hear about Dennis’ unexpected passing this morning. The Law & Order family extends sympathy and condolences to his family.”
Also on TV, Farina was a regular in the star-studded though short-lived 2011-12 HBO horse-track drama Luck.
He starred in the 1980s cult favourite Crime Story, and his stylish private-eye drama Buddy Faro (1998) was warmly received if little-watched. He followed that up with a 2002 sitcom flop, The In-Laws.
Last season, he guest-starred on the Fox comedy New Girl. One of the sitcom’s stars, Jake Johnson, said: “He is someone I will surely miss. I looked up to him personally and professionally... We all will miss out.”
A veteran of the Chicago theatre, Farina appeared in Joseph Mantegna’s Bleacher Bums and Streamers, directed by Terry Kinney, among other productions.
Born on February 29 1944, Farina was raised in a working-class neighborhood of Chicago, the seventh child of Italian immigrants.
After three years in the US Army, he served with the Chicago Police Department for 18 years, both as a uniformed officer (he was there for the 1968 Chicago riots) and a burglary detective, before he found his way into acting as he neared his 40s.
His first film was the 1981 action drama Thief, directed by Michael Mann – a future collaborator on numerous projects as recently as Luck – whom he met through a mutual friend.
In Thief he landed a small role as a criminal henchman, and, while not initially planning a career change, found the film world “very interesting,” as he told the AP in 2004, and concluded it could be a great sideline. (At the time, he was supplementing his police salary by working as a security guard.)
“I remember going to the set that day and being intrigued by the whole thing. I liked it. And everybody was extremely nice to me,” he recalled, while cautioning: “If the people were rude and didn’t treat me right, things could have gone the other way.”
He continued to work as a detective while taking occasional dramatic roles, and even took a leave of absence from the Chicago police to star in Crime Story, before he made the full-time acting plunge.
“If I’m characterised as a character actor, that’s fine with me,” he said in 2007. “Whatever they want to call me is fine. In the kind of roles I do, you can do them and walk away from it and have a really nice time.”
Farina is survived by three sons, six grandchildren and his long-time partner, Marianne Cahill.