July 22, 2013

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

By RICK KOGAN Chicago Tribune

(Continued from page 1)

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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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“John Mahoney?” said the officer.

“Yes,” said Mahoney. “What’s the problem?”

“You’re under arrest,” said the officer.

“What … what for?” said the stunned Mahoney.

“Impersonating an actor,” said the officer.


In 1985, Farina was cast opposite William L. Petersen in “Manhunter” and set to start filming episodes of a new TV series titled “Crime Story.”

He turned in his badge after nearly 20 years, and from that year forward his career was one of enviably steady employment, with parts large and small in such films as “Get Shorty,” “Snatch” and “Midnight Run”; and dozens of TV appearances, including his role as host of “Unsolved Mysteries” and the high-profile part of natty Detective Joe Fontana on “Law & Order,” from which he departed in 2006.

“I had made a two-year deal, and I was just tired of the part,” he told the Tribune in 2010. “There is a lot of exposition on the show. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity for the character to expand. It’s a plot-driven show.”

Farina was a friendly and warm person but he never did like sitting still for interviews, and one of the reasons was that “former cop” hung from him like love beads on an investment banker. It was yesterday’s fashion — increasingly old news — and he wanted to be done with it. But it lingered as a novelty, a quick hook for idea-starved writers.

“One interviewer asked me how many people I had to kill when I was a cop,” said Farina in a 1988 Tribune interview. “Can’t anybody understand that that life is over?”

Farina continued to make his home in Chicago, near Taylor Street, in what remains of one of the South Side’s great Italian neighborhoods. He had a home in southwestern Michigan. In Arizona, he played a lot of golf, a late-life passion.

“Sometimes I do pinch myself about the life I’ve had,” he said in a 1995 Tribune interview.

In December 2010 he spent 18 cold winter days in Chicago filming “The Last Rites of Joe May.” He played the title character, described in the script as “late-sixties, handsome but frail looking (with) fine white hair (and) meticulously trimmed mustache.”

Tim Evans, a longtime presence on the local theater scene and an admirer of Farina’s, was one of the producers of the film. “Dennis was one of those larger-than-life guys you just wanted to be around,” Evans said. “He was generous and kind to everyone, especially the working folks.

“He was an old-fashioned guy … sentimental, romantic, told great stories.”

On the film’s outdoor set on the West Side, shivering between takes, Farina told a Tribune reporter, “I always thought of myself as being fortunate to have the life I have. But I’ll tell you, now I’m really lucky because I get to sleep in my own bed at night.”

Farina is survived by three sons, Dennis Jr., Michael and Joseph, from his first marriage, which ended in divorce in 1980; six grandchildren; and longtime companion Marianne Cahill. Funeral services are pending, and in lieu of flowers his family has asked for donations to The 100 Club of Chicago, the civilian organization that provides for the families of police officers, firefighters and paramedics who have lost their lives in the line of duty.


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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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