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

By Todd Leopold, CNN
updated 3:50 AM EDT, Tue July 23, 2013
Dennis Farina has died, his representative said Monday, July 22. He was 69. Above, Farina shoots a scene as Detective Joe Fontana in "Law & Order" in 2004. Dennis Farina has died, his representative said Monday, July 22. He was 69. Above, Farina shoots a scene as Detective Joe Fontana in "Law & Order" in 2004.
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Remembering Dennis Farina
Remembering Dennis Farina
Remembering Dennis Farina
Remembering Dennis Farina
Remembering Dennis Farina
Remembering Dennis Farina
Remembering Dennis Farina
Remembering Dennis Farina
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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

(CNN) -- 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.

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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.

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