Dabney Coleman, King of Playing Delicious Villains, Dies @ 92

May 17, 2024

Sadly, venerated character actor Dabney Coleman died May 16, 2024.

Dolly's Doralee sizing up Dabney's Mr. Hart in 9 to 5 (Image via 20th Century Fox)

His death, at age 92, was confirmed by his grieving daughter Quincy Coleman:

"My Father, Dabney Wharton Coleman, took his last earthly breath peacefully and exquisitely in his home on Thursday May 16th, 2024 at 1:50 PM. My father crafted his time here on earth with a curious mind, a generous heart, and a soul on fire with passion, desire and humor that tickled the funny bone of humanity. As he lived, he moved through this final act of his life with elegance, excellence and mastery."

Coleman, after studying acting with Sanford Meisner in the late '50s, worked on TV and in films from 1961 until 2019.

Born January 3, 1932, in Austin, Texas, Coleman was in the U.S. Army in the '50s ahead of a Broadway debut in the short-lived show A Call on Kuprin (1961).

His first TV work was on Naked City (1961).

The mustache arrived in 1973. (Image via head shot)

Among his 179 IMDb credits were appearances on early TV shows including Ben Casey (1963), Dr. Kildare (1963), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1963 & 1964), The Outer Limits (1964), Hazel (1965), The Donna Reed Show (1965), The Fugitive (1964-1966), I Dream of Jeannie (1965 & 1967), That Girl (1966-1967), The Flying Nun (1967), Death Valley Days (1968) and Mod Squad (1968).

One major role he lost was the part of the Professor on Gilligan's Island; Russell Johnson, who won the role, later appeared opposite Coleman on an episode of Buffalo Bill.

Coleman appeared on more than 100 episodes of two quirky nighttime soap parodies, the cultural phenomenon Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1976-1977) and its spin-off Forever Fernwood (1977-1978), as Merle Jeeter. Coleman would later say he suspected his work as Jeeter might have been his best.

In films from 1965, he was in everyting from the Elvis movie The Trouble with Girls and Downhill Racer (both 1969) to the disaster epic The Towering Inferno (1974).

Who's the boss? (GIF via GIPHY)

It took 20 years, but Coleman truly arrived when he landed the part with which he would always be most associated, that of "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" boss man Franklin Hart Jr. in 9 to 5 (1980). The feminist comedy starred Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton as frustrated office workers who hatch a plot to restrain Hart while taking over their end of the heartless corporation for which they have toiled thanklessly.

The movie grossed over $100 million and spawned a no. 1 crossover hit for country star Parton, who was launched as a movie star as a result of the film's hit status.

It also helped Coleman land a rare lead, anchoring the sitcom Buffalo Bill (1983-1984). The series, about an ego-tripping talk show host, featured Geena Davis and Joanna Cassidy. Considered controversial for its main character's pre-Seinfeld era unlikability and its tackling of the issue of abortion, the positively reviewed series died an early death.

Coleman received his first of six Emmy nominations for his performance.

He went on to appear in a string of movie hits, among them On Golden Pond (1981), Tootsie (1982), WarGames (1983), The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984) and You've Got Mail (1998).

Diabolical in The Muppets Take Manhattan (Image via Tri-Star)

Other noteworthy films: Cinderella Liberty (1973), How to Beat the High Cost of Living (1980), Melvin & Howard (1980), Modern Problems (1981), Young Doctors in Love (1982), Cloak & Dagger (1984), The Man with One Red Shoe (1985), Dragnet (1987), Meet the Applegates (1990), The Beverly Hillbillies (1993), Clifford (1994), Inspector Gadget (1999), Stuart Little (1999), Moonlight Mile (2002) and Warren Beatty's last directorial effort, Rules Don't Apply (2016), which marked Coleman's final feature.

In the latter part of his career, Coleman was the voice of Principal Prickly on the animated series Recess (1997-2001) and gave memorable performances on The Guardian (2001-2004), Boardwalk Empire (2010-2011) and, in his final on-screen appearance, Yellowstone (2019), on which he played the father of series star Kevin Costner's character.

With Michael Pitt in Boardwalk Empire (Image via HBO)

Coleman won his Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie for Sworn to Silence (1987). He won a Golden Globe for Best Actor — Television Series Musical or Comedy for The Slap Maxwell Story (1988), and twice shared a SAG Award with the cast of Boardwalk Empire.

Married and divorced twice, including to late actress Jean Hale, he is survived by his four children.

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