Cookie consent

We use cookies to improve your experience on this website. By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies. Tell me more | Cookie preferences

Dennis Farina, 'Law & Order' actor, dies at 69

Story highlights

  • Actor Dennis Farina was known for cop and tough-guy roles
  • Farina played Joe Fontana on "Law & Order"
  • Actor was longtime Chicago police officer who went into acting

Dennis Farina, the dapper, mustachioed cop-turned-actor best known for his tough-as-nails work in such TV series as "Law & Order," "Crime Story," and "Miami Vice," has died. He was 69.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of a great actor and a wonderful man," said his publicist, Lori De Waal, in a statement Monday. "Dennis Farina was always warmhearted and professional, with a great sense of humor and passion for his profession. He will be greatly missed by his family, friends and colleagues."

Farina, who had a long career as a police officer in Chicago, got into acting through director Michael Mann, who used him as a consultant and cast him in his 1981 movie, "Thief." That role led to others in such Mann-created shows as "Miami Vice" (in which Farina played a mobster) and "Crime Story" (in which he starred as Lt. Mike Torello).

Farina also had roles, generally as either cops or gangsters, in a number of movies, including "Midnight Run" (1988), "Get Shorty" (1995), "The Mod Squad" (1999) and "Snatch" (2000).

In 2004, he joined the cast of the long-running "Law & Order" after Jerry Orbach's departure, playing Detective Joe Fontana, a role he reprised on the spinoff "Trial by Jury." Fontana was known for flashy clothes and an expensive car, a distinct counterpoint to Orbach's rumpled Lennie Briscoe.

Farina was on "Law & Order" for two years, partnered with Jesse L. Martin's Ed Green. Martin's character became a senior detective after Farina left the show.

    In recent years, Farina was one of the stars of "Luck," the ill-fated HBO series about horse racing, and had an occasional role on the Fox series "New Girl."

    Farina was born in 1944 in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood. He became a police officer in the late '60s and soon graduated to detective.

    His switch to acting was a fluke.

    A friend was an adviser on "Thief" and recommended Farina to Mann, who was looking for a guide to the city. The director gave Farina a small part in the film.

    "The process was interesting to me, very interesting, but no way did I think this was a full-time career," Farina told Cigar Aficionado in 1999. "I was 35 years old and had put in more than a decade as a policeman."

    But one thing led to another -- including encouragement from the Steppenwolf Theatre's John Malkovich -- and soon Farina was getting more than bit parts.

    Throughout his career, he was loyal to his hometown. Chicago Tribune writer Rick Kogan once wrote of the actor, "Dennis Farina has a Chicago neighborhood face. ... Dennis Farina has a face that should be found at dawn, unloading crates of lettuce from the back of a truck on Randolph Street."

    Farina repaid the courtesy.

    "My personality was formed by Chicago," he told Cigar Aficionado. "It's very American, very straightforward. If you can't find it, or make it there, you won't make it anywhere. It's a very honest place."

    Farina had three sons and several grandchildren. He is survived by his longtime partner, Marianne Cahill.

        People we lost in 2013

      • James Avery during 2005 BET Awards - Red Carpet at Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by L. Cohen/WireImage)

        Actor James Avery, who played the beloved Uncle Phil on the hit 1990s sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," has died. He was 67.
      • John Cordice

        Dr. John W.V. Cordice, the surgeon who operated on Dr. Martin Luther King after he was stabbed in Harlem in 1958, died in Iowa. Cordice was 95.
      • Joseph Ruskin, who acted in 25 films and 124 television shows, died of natural causes in a Santa Monica, California, hospital Saturday, December 28, according to  SAG-AFTRA. Ruskin was 89.

        Joseph Ruskin died of natural causes in a Santa Monica, California, hospital. He was 89.
      • Jeff Pollack

        Jeffrey Ian Pollack, who directed the popular 1990s films "Booty Call" and "Above the Rim" and produced "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" has died. He was 54.
      • FILE - In this July 26, 2002 file photo, Russian weapon designer Mikhail Kalashnikov presents his legendary assault rifle to the media while opening the exhibition "Kalashnikov - legend and curse of a weapon" at a weapons museum in Suhl, Germany. Mikhail Kalashnikov, whose work as a weapons designer for the Soviet Union is immortalized in the name of the world's most popular firearm, has died at the age of 94, Monday Dec. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer, File)

        Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Russian gun designer whose AK-47 rifle became the weapon of choice for many national armies and guerrillas around the world, died.
      • Ned Vizzini, who shot to fame at a young age for his teenage novels focusing on youth depression and anxieties, committed suicide at age 32.
      • single use image -- do not reuse

        Actor Daniel Escobar, who played a teacher in "Lizzie McGuire," died from complications of diabetes in Los Angeles. He was 49.
      • Ronnie Biggs poses for a photo

        "Great Train Robber" Ronnie Biggs -- one of the most notorious British criminals of the 20th century -- has died, his publisher told CNN. He was 84.
      •  UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Photo of Ray Price Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

        Ray Price, the Nashville star whose trademark "shuffle" beat became a country music staple, has died at age 87, his agent said.
      • HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 30: Peter O'Toole poses as his hand and footprints are enshrined in concrete at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre on April 30, 2011 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/PictureGroup)

        Actor Peter O'Toole died peacefully in a hospital at 81 years old.
      • Jim Hall performs during the Newport Jazz Festival 2013 at Fort Adams State Park on August 4, 2013.

        Jazz guitarist Jim Hall, who played with the jazz greats of the 20th century and influenced the younger ones, has died, his family said. He was 83.
      • (FILE PHOTO) Former South African President Nelson Mandela Has Died LONDON - JUNE 26: Nelson Mandela leaves the InterContinental Hotel after a photoshoot with celebrity photographer Terry O'Neil on June 26, 2008 in London, England. Mandela is in London in advance of the 46664 concert being held at Hyde Park on Friday the 27th June to celebrate Nelson Mandela's 90th Birthday. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

        Freedom fighter, statesman, moral compass and South Africa's symbol of the struggle against racial oppression.
      • Actor Paul Walker, who shot to fame as star of the high-octane street racing franchise "Fast & Furious," died in a car crash in Southern California. He was 40.
      • sot jane kean honymooners larry king live archive 2003_00002127.jpg

        Jane Kean, who played diverse roles during a long career but was best known as Trixie on the TV revival of "The Honeymooners," has died. She was 90.