July 22, 2013

Dennis Farina, cop who became 'Law & Order' star, dies at 69

By RICK KOGAN Chicago Tribune

NEW YORK — Dennis Farina had the sort of Chicago neighborhood face you’d find behind the tap at a corner tavern, standing at first base on a softball diamond or lugging your new icebox up the stairs. As he said to a Chicago Tribune reporter nearly 20 years ago while sitting high above the city of his birth, riding the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel: “I spend all day walking around this city. I always come back here. This is where I’m comfortable.”

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This 2004 file image released by NBC shows actor Dennis Farina in character as Police Detective Joe Fontana on NBC's "Law & Order." Farina died suddenly on Monday, July 22, 2013, in Scottsdale, AZriz., after suffering a blood clot in his lung. He was 69. (AP Photo/NBC, Paul Drinkwater, File)

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In this undated image released by HBO, from left, Joan Allen, Dustin Hoffman, John Ortiz and Dennis Farina are shown in a scene from the HBO original series "Luck." Farina died suddenly on Monday, July 22, 2013, in Scottsdale, AZriz., after suffering a blood clot in his lung. He was 69. (AP Photo/HBO, Gusmano Cesaretti, File )

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The actor — famous for his work in such films as “Get Shorty,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “Midnight Run,” and in television shows such as “Crime Story” and “Law & Order” — died suddenly Monday morning in Scottsdale, Ariz., after suffering a blood clot in his lung. He was 69.

Though he spent much of his time in warm climes, Farina still had a home here, the better to keep in close touch with family members and lifelong friends. They kept him grounded because they all knew what the TV-watching, movie-going public never could: Farina was self-effacing and shy at his core.

“I know guys who look at themselves on TV, in movies. Not me,” he told the Tribune in 2010. “I’m afraid if I ever did I’d just sit there saying, ‘Why the hell did they ever hire me?’”

Farina was born Feb. 29, 1944, the youngest of the seven children (three brothers, three sisters) of Iolanda, a homemaker, and Joseph Farina, a Sicilian immigrant doctor.

After a hitch in the Army he went to work in the South Water produce market for a time. At the suggestion of one of his brothers, he took and passed the entrance exam for the Chicago Police Department and started as a patrolman on the North Side; he became a detective four years later.

His acting career began in 1981 when director Michael Mann — in Chicago scouting locations for his film “Thief” — met Farina and gave him a bit part in the movie. A friend suggested that Farina circulate his picture to various Chicago agents, which, in turn, led to his being cast in an episode on “Chicago Story,” where he met John Mahoney, who persuaded Farina to audition for a role in “A Prayer For My Daughter,” at Steppenwolf. Farina subsequently appeared in “Streamers” at Columbia College; “The Time of Your Life” at the Goodman; “Class C Trial in Yokohama” at the Theater Building; in TV shows such as “Hunter,” “Miami Vice” and “Remington Steele,” and in such locally filmed movies as “Code of Silence” and “The Naked Face.”

“When I first got into acting, I never had any long-term goals, never had any plan,” he said to the Tribune in 1988. “I just thought it would be a good way to make some extra money.”

His work on Chicago stages remains the stuff of legend, and stories such as this:

His first stage appearance was in “A Prayer For My Daughter.” Fellow cast member Mahoney sent a nervous Farina out on stage before the house lights had gone down. “I was scared to death,” Farina said. “John took advantage of that.”

Farina retaliated: One night, Mahoney was awakened at his house by the wail of police sirens. He looked out the windows and saw three police cars parked in the street in front of his building — a mess of sirens and lights. Mahoney watched in dread as a policeman approached his building and rang his bell.

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Additional Photos

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Dennis Farina arrives at the premiere for the HBO television series "Luck" in Los Angeles last year. Farina died Monday after suffering a blood clot in his lung. He was 69.

2012 Associated Press File Photo


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