Dabney Coleman, 92-year-old actor known for playing curmudgeons, passes away

Dabney Coleman, a remarkable character actor known for his portrayal of smarmy villains, such as the chauvinistic boss in “9 to 5” and the nasty TV director in “Tootsie,” has passed away at the age of 92.

Coleman passed away peacefully at his residence in Santa Monica, as stated by his daughter, Quincy Coleman, in a statement to The Associated Press. She shared that he took his final breath in a serene and beautiful manner.

Ben Stiller expressed his admiration for the legendary Dabney Coleman, acknowledging his significant contribution to the world of entertainment. According to Stiller, Coleman not only shaped but also personified a distinctive archetype as a character actor. His exceptional talent and undeniable presence have left an indelible mark on both film and television over the past four decades.

In the world of film and television, Coleman spent twenty years honing his craft as a skilled but overlooked actor. However, everything changed in 1976 when he landed the role of the unscrupulous mayor of Fernwood in the groundbreaking and daring satirical soap opera, “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” This show pushed the boundaries so far that no network was willing to take it on.

Producer Norman Lear successfully syndicated the show, with Louise Lasser taking on the lead role. It swiftly gained a dedicated following and became a cult favorite. Coleman’s portrayal of Mayor Merle Jeeter was particularly beloved, and his skillful, deadpan comedic delivery did not escape the attention of film and network executives.

Coleman, a towering six-footer with a distinguished black mustache, left an indelible mark on the silver screen with his memorable performances. One of his notable roles was that of a harried computer scientist in the beloved film “War Games.” He also portrayed Tom Hanks’ father in the heartwarming classic “You’ve Got Mail” and brought intensity to his character as a fire fighting official in the thrilling disaster movie “The Towering Inferno.”

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He received a Golden Globe for his performance in “The Slap Maxwell Story” and won an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in Peter Levin’s 1987 legal drama series “Sworn to Silence.” In addition to these accolades, he has also appeared in popular shows like “Ray Donovan” and had a recurring role in “Boardwalk Empire,” earning him two Screen Actors Guild Awards.

In the iconic 1980 hit “9 to 5,” he portrayed the boss who tormented his female subordinates, played by Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton. His character was a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot until they took matters into their own hands.

In 1981, he played the role of Fonda’s loving and polite boyfriend in the movie “On Golden Pond.” During a visit to her parents’ vacation home, he asks her father (played by her real-life father, Henry Fonda) for permission to sleep with her.

In the film “Tootsie,” Coleman portrayed the irritating director of a daytime soap opera that Hoffman’s character infiltrates by assuming a female identity. Coleman’s filmography also includes notable works such as “North Dallas Forty,” “Cloak and Dagger,” “Dragnet,” “Meet the Applegates,” “Inspector Gadget,” and “Stuart Little.” He later reunited with Hoffman in the role of a land developer in Brad Silberling’s “Moonlight Mile,” alongside Jake Gyllenhaal.

Coleman’s unpleasant characters didn’t quite resonate on television, where he appeared in several network comedies. While a few gained a cult following, only one managed to surpass two seasons, leading some critics to doubt whether a show featuring a protagonist with no redeeming qualities could capture a broad viewership.

One notable example of a short-lived yet well-crafted television show is “Buffalo Bill” (1983-84). The series revolved around the character of “Buffalo Bill” Bittinger, a conceited and clueless daytime talk show host who harbors resentment towards his small-time market in Buffalo, New York, and vents his frustrations on those around him. Despite its clever writing and talented ensemble cast, the show unfortunately met its end after just two seasons.

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In 1987, Coleman starred in “The Slap Maxwell Story,” portraying a struggling small-town sportswriter who is determined to salvage his failing marriage while also pursuing a captivating young reporter.

In his pursuit of a mass TV audience, he made several unsuccessful attempts with shows like “Apple Pie,” “Drexell’s Class,” and “Madman of the People.” In “Drexell’s Class,” he portrayed an inside trader, while in “Madman of the People,” he found himself at odds with his younger boss, who happened to be his daughter.

In “The Guardian” (2001-2004), he found success as a co-star, portraying the father of a corrupt lawyer. Additionally, he delighted audiences with his voice acting as Principal Prickly on the Disney animated series “Recess” from 1997 to 2003.

Despite his outward display of confidence, Coleman was actually a reserved individual. He admitted to being quite shy, attributing it to various factors such as being the youngest of four siblings, all of whom were incredibly good-looking, including a brother who resembled the famous actor Tyrone Power. Additionally, the early loss of his father at the age of 4 may have contributed to his shyness. Reflecting on his childhood, Coleman revealed, “I was extremely small, just a little guy who was there, the kid who created no trouble. I was attracted to fantasy, and I created games for myself.”

In 1998’s “My Date With the President’s Daughter,” as he grew older, he also started leaving his mark on arrogant figures of authority. He portrayed not only an egotistical and self-absorbed president of the United States but also a clueless father to a teenage girl.

Dabney Coleman, born in 1932 in Austin, Texas, had an interesting journey before making his mark in the entertainment industry. After spending two years at the Virginia Military Academy, followed by two years at the University of Texas, and then serving two years in the Army, he found himself as a 26-year-old law student. It was during this time that he crossed paths with Zachry Scott, a fellow Austin native who was already making waves in the film industry with his roles in movies like “Mildred Pierce.”

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In 1984, Coleman spoke to The AP and described the person who had a profound impact on his life, saying, “He was the most dynamic person I’ve ever met. He convinced me to pursue a career in acting, and I acted upon his advice by leaving for New York the very next day to study.” Despite his reservations about Coleman’s decision, this influential individual’s persuasion played a pivotal role in shaping Coleman’s future.

In the early stages of his career, he was involved in several television shows, including “Ben Casey,” “Dr Kildare,” “The Outer Limits,” “Bonanza,” and “The Mod Squad.” He also made an appearance in the film “The Towering Inferno.” Furthermore, in 1961, he showcased his talents on Broadway in the play “A Call on Kuprin.” Additionally, he portrayed Kevin Costner’s father in the popular TV series “Yellowstone.”

Coleman, who has been through two divorces, leaves behind a loving family. His four children, Meghan, Kelly, Randy, and Quincy, will continue his legacy. In addition, he is also survived by his beloved grandchildren, Hale and Gabe Torrance, Luie Freundl, and Kai and Coleman Biancaniello.

Quincy Coleman wrote a heartfelt tribute in honor of his father, describing him as someone who embraced life with a curious mind, a generous heart, and a soul that burned with passion, desire, and humor that brought joy to people’s lives.

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