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Obituary: Dennis Farina

Dennis Farina

Obituary by Jack Foley

POPULAR character actor Dennis Farina has died at the age of 69.

Perhaps best known for his role as Det Joe Fontana in New York-based police show Law & Order, Farina had a wealth of film work under his belt, including most notably playing a heavy alongside Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin in Midnight Run and another dubious character in Get Shorty alongside John Travolta.

On TV, meanwhile, he had also recently won acclaim alongside Dustin Hoffman in racing drama Luck (pictured) and as Jake Johnson’s father in Zooey Deschanel sit-com New Girl.

Deschanel was among those to lead the tributes, saying that she had been “lucky to have witnessed his charm and brilliance”.

Farina died in Scottsdale, Arizona, after developing a blood clot in his lung, according to his publicist Lori De Waal.

Born in Chicago on February 29, 1944, Dennis Farina served in the US Army before spending 18 years as a police detective in the Chicago Police Department’s burglary division, from 1967 to 1985.

It wasn’t until he was almost 40 that he turned his attention to acting, earning his first credited role as a minor character in Michael Mann’s 1981 film Thief, for whom he had began working as a police consultant.

His relationship with Mann was to lead to some great future roles for him. Initially, Mann chose him for his Crime Story series. But then he also played mobster Albert Lombard in the director’s seminal television show, Miami Vice and, again, on aforementioned horse racing drama Luck.

In 1986, Farina then made his break into movies in the crime thriller Manhunter, again directed by Mann, and the first film to feature Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter character (as played by Brian Cox).

And while becoming a mainstay of the Chicago theatre scene, he also continued to dabble in both TV and film with further notable roles coming in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, Guy Ritchie’s Snatch and Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight (in which he played the father of Jennifer Lopez).

He played Joe Fontana during the 2004 to 2006 seasons of Law & Order, becoming something of a household name and losing his tough guy tag in the process.

He is survived by his partner of 35 years, Marianne Cahill, three sons and six grandchildren.

Among other tributes paid to Farina, fellow Illinoisan actor John Cusack hailed him as a “great guy and a real Chicago character”, while former Cheers star Kirstie Alley said he had been “an awesome actor and person”.

Denis Leary called him a “good cop, [a] great actor [and an] even better human being”.

And the current superintendent of the Chicago Police Force also paid tribute, saying he would “always be first and foremost a guy from the Near North Side who helped make this city safer”.