Richard Dysart, 'L.A. Law's' Leland McKenzie, dies at 86

Story highlights

  • The died of cancer at his home in Santa Monica, California
  • He usually took a back seat to the younger, more glamorous characters on the show

(CNN)Richard Dysart, the award-winning stage actor who gained fame playing law firm leader Leland McKenzie on "L.A. Law," has died. He was 86.

He died of cancer at his home in Santa Monica, California, according to his wife, Kathryn Jacobi Dysart.
For decades, Dysart was a noted TV and film character actor, and stage star, winning a Drama Desk award for playing coach in Jason Miller's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "That Championship Season." But it was as McKenzie, the occasionally crusty paterfamilias on "L.A. Law," that he's likely best remembered.
    McKenzie usually took a back seat to the younger, more glamorous characters on "Law," a Steven Bochco-created legal show that owed much to his previous hit, "Hill Street Blues."
    The employees of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak included Harry Hamlin's smooth-talking Michael Kuzak, Corbin Bernsen's skirt-chasing divorce attorney Arnie Becker and Michele Greene's idealistic Abby Perkins. There was as much time devoted to bedroom activities as there was legal issues while the show bravely took on such topics as AIDS, child molestation and capital punishment.
    But McKenzie was the one who kept them in check while still encouraging their better instincts. (Alan Rachins' Douglas Brackman was the business guy.)
    He was also involved in one of the show's most surprising plot twists: a romantic affair with a rival, Rosalind Shays (Diana Muldaur), who met with one of TV's most shocking deaths -- plunging down an elevator shaft.
    Dysart appeared in every episode of the show, which ran from 1986 to 1994.
    After "L.A. Law" ended, Dysart took few roles, though he did return for an "L.A. Law" reunion movie in 2002.
    Dysart's other credits include 1971's "The Hospital," 1975's "The Day of the Locust," 1979's "Being There," John Carpenter's 1982 version of "The Thing," 1985's "The Falcon and the Snowman" and 1987's "Mask."
    He is survived by Jacobi Dysart, his wife of nearly three decades, a son and two grandchildren.