CHICAGO (CBS) — Dennis Farina, a former Chicago police officer turned actor who was equally capable of playing good guys and bad guys, has died.
Farina became a big star for his role in NBC’s “Law & Order,” but his breakout role came in the mid-1980s as Lt. Mike Torello in the TV drama “Crime Story.”
He was 69 years old.
Lori De Waal, his representative, told the AP that Farina died Monday morning in a Scottsdale, Ariz., hospital after suffering a blood clot in his lung.
“He was Mr. Chicago, he was everything a Chicagoan is,” comedian Tom Dreesen, a Chicago area native, tells CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez. “He had the Chicago way about him and a swagger about him and also a humility about him.”
Dreesen says the actor was generous in helping the comedian’s charity events back home during their 30-year friendship.
Farina was born in Chicago on February 29, 1944 and grew up in Old Town. According to IMDb, Farina starred in at least 75 movies or television series and did not start acting until he was 37. He was the only actor on “Law & Order” who actually served in law enforcement, serving as a Chicago police officer for 18 years.
Nick Nickeas, his long-time partner on the police department, says despite fame and fortune, Farina stayed a loyal buddy through the years. They would regularly go out to dinner after the actor struck it big.
“The talk was never about Hollywood or any of that stuff. It was always policemen and things we did together and laugh about old stories,” Nickeas said.
Joe Ahern is the president of Chicago’s 100 Club, which provides for the families of fallen police and firefighters. Farina’s last wish was that people would give to the organization, rather than buy flowers.
Farina leaves behind his partner of 35 years and three sons. He still had a home in Chicago.
“The entire CPD family was saddened to hear of the passing of Dennis Farina, a legendary character actor who was a true-blue Chicago character,” Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said in a statement Monday. “After an 18-year career in the Chicago Police Department, Dennis had a wonderful second act in life, bringing his distinctive Chicago voice and values to millions of people.”
Chicago-centric “Crime Story” aired on NBC in the 1980s. The story centered on Farina’s Chicago Police detective character, Lt. Mike Torello, and his pursuit of organized crime, specifically mobster Ray Luca.
Besides his work in television, Farina enjoyed success in films that included “Saving Private Ryan,” “Get Shorty” and “Midnight Run.” In the latter two movies, Farina played colorful, menacing characters on the wrong side of the law.
One of Farina’s last roles was as Gus Demitriou in the short-lived HBO series “Luck.” That show, about the horse racing industry, was abruptly canceled after three horses died during filming.
A veteran of the Chicago theater, Farina appeared in Joseph Mantegna’s “Bleacher Bums” and “Streamers,” directed by Terry Kinney, among other productions.
“He was the most generous and gracious guy that I knew,” says Tim Evans, co-founder of the Steppenwolf Theater, where Farina had early stage roles.
Evans said Farina continued to push to bring film projects to Chicago.
Contributing: The Associated Press