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Dabney Coleman, the bad boss of ‘9 to 5’ and ‘Yellowstone’ guest star, dies at 92

Nardine Saad – Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Dabney Coleman, the beloved character actor who famously played the dastardly cad overseeing Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton in “9 to 5,” has died. He was 92.

Coleman’s death was confirmed by his daughter Quincy Coleman who said he died “peacefully and exquisitely” at home Thursday afternoon.

“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,” she said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter and TMZ. “As he lived, he moved through this final act of his life with elegance, excellence and mastery.

“A teacher, a hero and a king, Dabney Coleman is a gift and blessing in life and in death as his spirit will shine through his work, his loved ones and his legacy … eternally.”

No cause of death was given.

The actor, who also starred in the TV series “The Guardian” and “Boardwalk Empire” and had a guest turn as John Dutton Sr. in “Yellowstone,” was nominated for six Emmy Awards. He won in 1987 for the TV movie “Sworn to Silence.” He also starred in the films “Tootsie,” “On Golden Pond,” “War Games,” “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Where the Heart Is.”

“I like to say things funny, not say funny things. There is more acting involved than just saying that supposedly funny line that a lot of sitcoms rely on. I don’t want to do jokes,” the actor told the Los Angeles Times in 1991 when he gained a reputation as the king of TV curmudgeons in the unconventional TV comedies “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” “Buffalo Bill” and “The Slap Maxwell Story.”

“I lean toward mean,” Coleman, who was in his late 50s at the time, said. “I like that. It’s fun and it will never cease to be fun because you can’t do that in your real life. At least you can’t get away with it.”

Born on Jan. 3, 1932, in Austin, Texas, to Melvin Randolph Coleman and Mary Wharton, the actor was the youngest of four children and was raised by his mother after his father died of pneumonia when Coleman was 4. He grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas.

With a background as eclectic as his characters, Coleman studied at the Virginia Military Institute and served in the U.S. Army in Europe in 1953 and, as an avid player, played for the U.S. Army tennis team while posted there for two years.

He continued his education at the University of Texas where he studied law and met his first wife, Ann Harrell. Through her, he met actor Zachary Scott, who inspired him to drop out of college and pursue acting, a career he admits he came to “late in life.” Coleman and Harrell married in 1957 and divorced in 1959.

Coleman and his second wife, Jean Hale, married in 1961. They traveled to Los Angeles where he began regularly appearing on television in shows such as “Naked City” and “The Outer Limits.”

In the 1970s, he clinched notable parts on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” and in the feature films “Downhill Racer” and “The Towering Inferno.” But his career as a humorous cad took off in 1980 when he landed the part of the “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” Franklin Hart Jr. in Colin Higgins’ radical feminist comedy,“9 to 5.” Coleman said he always had “more fun playing bad guys” and relished the “rottenness” of his chauvinistic character.

“Any amount of rottenness he wants to display is perfect for this character because he has no redeeming qualities at all,” he said in a 1980 interview. “He is a bad person but that’s the fun of it but also it’s why anyone who would take that seriously and say ‘Well that is not what all male bosses are like,’ is missing the point. They missed what we’re trying to do, which is trying to make a funny movie.”

Looking back at his role in the film, Coleman was struck to be starring amid “these three icons,” he said in Brian Beasley’s 2017 documentary “ Not Such a Bad Guy: Conversations With Dabney Coleman.”

He played similar roles in “Modern Problems” and “Tootsie” and took on more serious roles in “On Golden Pond” and “Cloak and Dagger.” On television, he also starred in the acclaimed but short-lived series “Buffalo Bill” in the early 1980s and earned a Golden Globe for his role in the late 1980s comedy “The Slap Maxwell Story.”

Coleman told The Times that he took a role in the comedy series “Drexell’s Class” in 1991 to gain visibility that he thought could land him significant parts in feature films. At the time, he wanted to work with filmmakers such as Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. He got his wish in 2010 when he appeared in the first two seasons of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” which was executive-produced by Scorsese. He played Commodore Louis Kaestner, a mentor to Steve Buscemi’s Enoch “Nucky” Thompson in the mob drama.

The actor also had a memorable guest turn on the hit Kevin Costner drama “Yellowstone,” appearing in the Season 2 finale as Costner’s father in the final moments of his life. The role was his last onscreen credit.

(Former Times staff writer Patrick Kevin Day contributed to this report.)


©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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