A Late-Blooming Career Cut Short: Dennis Farina Passes at 69

Dennis Farina’s acting career was unique in Hollywood as one of the few actors to garner success later in life. This “late-bloomer” started his acting career at 37 years old, after almost 20 years as a Chicago police officer. He

Joe Fontana (Law & Order)

Joe Fontana (Law & Order) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

was well known as a character actor, playing a cop on NBC’s “Law & Order,” and one of the only cast members that had been on the police force in real life.

Dennis was born on February 29, 1944 to Italian parents in Chicago. His father, Joseph, was a doctor and an immigrant from Sicily. This leap-year baby would go on to serve 3 years in the military and then to serve his native city as a policeman from 1967 to 1985. He worked mostly in burglary and it was there that he was hired by director Michael Mann as a consultant for the movie “Thief” (1981), starring James Caan. Farina was given a bit part in the movie and would go on to work for Mann in future roles. After a brief stint acting in Chicago theater, he left the police force for a lead role in Mann’s television series “Crime Story” (1986). He also played mobster Albert Lombard in Mann’s other television show, “Miami Vice.”

Farina’s distinguishing looks made him perfect for his roles as a cop or a gangster. He was tall and imposing, with a memorable silver mustache. He worked steadily in both television and the movies after quitting the Chicago police force. His first major movie role was another Michael Mann movie, “Manhunter”(1986), in which he played an FBI agent. This was the first of the Hannibal Lecter films and Farina would go on to star in all three.

Farina’s most memorable movie roles were in 1998’s “Saving Private Ryan” in which he played a colonel who convinces Tom Hank’s character to rescue Private Ryan from the Nazis. He was known for his comedy roles as well as his serious characters. In “Get Shorty,” Farina received an American Comedy Actor award for his performance as “Ray ‘Bones’ Barboni, John Travolta’s rival.

Dennis Farina’s other screen credits include “Out of Sight” with Jennifer Lopez; John Frankenheimer’s “Reindeer Games,” Guy Ritchie’s “Snatch,” as well as the 2008 comedy, “Bottle Shock”. He was narrator for the TV show “Unsolved Mysteries,” replacing Robert Stack as the original host. Farina starred alongside Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher in “What Happens in Vegas” (2008). Another comedic role was in HBO’s “Empire Falls,” starring Helen Hunt and Ed Harris. His last recurring TV role was in “Luck,” the 2012 horse racing series.

Farina and his wife of 10 years, Patricia, had three sons. Joseph Farina followed in his father’s footsteps and became an actor. And sadly, Dennis Farina’s second act in life came to a close on July 22, 2013. He was only 69 years old when he died from a pulmonary embolism at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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