During his acting career, he's frequently played the role of a cop.
It's certainly not his first TV cop role, but it's the one that made him famous. Since NYPD Blue made its debut in 1993, Dennis Franz has portrayed a tough detective who has battled demons of his own.
Birth Name: Dennis Franz Schlachta
Place of Birth: Maywood, Illinois, USA
Date of Birth: October 28, 1944
Occupation: Actor, Writer
Family: Dennis Franz is the son of German immigrant, Franz Schlachta and his wife, Eleanor, both of whom were Chicago postal workers. The youngest of three children, Dennis has two older sisters.
Significant Other: On April 1, 1995, Dennis married his longtime love, Joanie Zeck. Dennis and Joanie have two daughters. Tricia Franz was born in 1974 and Krista was born in 1976. According to sources, the girls are Joanie's children from a previous marriage, and Dennis has raised them as his own for years.
The Early Years
The Starting Point
Dennis was active in high school baseball, football and swimming. During his junior year, he tried out for a part in a school production of The Crucible because his girlfriend was up for a part in it. He got his part, but the young lady didn't get hers. It seems that didn't go over well. Young Dennis had his first taste of acting minus his girlfriend. She broke up with him upon discovering he had been cast and she was not.
After graduating from Wright Junior College in Chicago, he went on to Southern Illinois University, majoring in speech and theater before enlisting in the Armed Forces where he served 11 months in an airborne division during the Vietnam war.
After that, Dennis became a postman, and by his own admission, not a very good one. Short and scrappy, he decided to become a character actor. Making his rounds of casting agencies in search of film work, he ended up at the Organic Theater Company where he performed in Chicago and throughout the United States. After performing in such Chicago-based films as Andrew Davis' Stony Island, Bleacher Bums, which he also co-wrote, Robert Altman's A Wedding and Brian DePalma's The Fury, he moved to Los Angeles, where he has appeared in such films as Dressed to Kill, A Fine Mess, The Package, Blowout, Psycho II, Remember My Name, Popeye and A Perfect Couple. In the early 1980s, Dennis was cast as beat cop Joe Gilland in Chicago Story. He had that role in the 1981 movie and subsequent series that lasted only through 1982. From then on, he would become a regular in various projects of producer Steven Bochco. In November of 1993, USA Today magazine talked with Bochco. The producer who had already worked with Dennis Franz for a decade, wasn't afraid to call it like he saw it.
"Nobody's better than Dennis. He's a great, great actor. He's a tough guy, he plays cops with extreme realism, he funny, and he looks like a mutt."
There's Something About The Color Blue
Dennis Franz started getting really blue in 1983. No, he wasn't depressed. The early 1980's was the beginning of Dennis' blue streak. He was cast as a nasty cop in Hill Street Blues, the hit series of the 1980s. TV Guide voted Dennis "Villain of the Year" for that role.
"It was very exciting to be asked to play a role on television's most critically acclaimed show, Hill Street Blues," Dennis said. "I was Sal Benedetto, a notorious, selfish, evil man. I did two episodes and the character was so popular I did another three."
Later in 1983, Steven Bochco asked Dennis to star in Bay City Blues, a series about minor league baseball players. The show ended after four episodes.
The character of Sal Benedetto was killed on Hill Street Blues, so the producers of the show created the role of Lieutenant Norman Buntz so Dennis could return to the series. He remained on the show for its last two seasons. The series, which debuted in 1981, ended in 1987. It led to a spin-off called Beverly Hills Buntz. In this show, the gruff cop moves to Beverly Hills and opens his own detective agency. Buntz didn't make it in Beverly Hills. The show made its debut 1987 and was canceled in 1988. After that, there were movies like Kiss Shot, The Package, Die Hard 2, N.Y.P.D. Mounted, and In the Line of Duty: Siege at Marion.
The Blue That Made Him Famous
The crime drama is set against the gritty and volatile backdrop of New York. When casting for the pilot for the show, producers Steven Bochco and David Milch already had Dennis Franz in mind for the starring role of Detective Andy Sipowicz. The down-to-earth actor won attention for playing not one but two different roles, first, Sal Benedetto and later, Norman Buntz. He was just what they needed for this new series.
Premiering on September 21. 1993, the show initially caused controversy. With its frank language, violence and brief nudity, it elevated the genre and altered the boundaries of what TV censors found acceptable. It didn't take long before NYPD Blue became a critical and ratings darling, even surviving a number of cast changes.
Among the cast changes was the departure of David Caruso, who portrayed Detective John Kelly, Andy's first partner. He left the show in 1994, a few episodes into the second season. Jimmy Smits became Andy's new partner, Bobby Simone. When Smits left in 1998, Rick Schroder stepped in as Danny Sorenson. When he left in 2001, Mark-Paul Gosselaar joined the cast as Detective John Clark Jr., Andy's current partner.
Detective Andy Sipowicz
The character Dennis has portrayed since the show's inception is described as a hulking, mustachioed, walking contradiction, Sipowicz is a recovering alcoholic, a hot-tempered bully and a crude bigot. He's also a dedicated, brilliant cop, a fiercely loyal friend, and a sensitive soul who, in the last few years, has learned to ignore his prejudices, if not forget them. He's a Vietnam veteran who joined the police force after leaving the infantry. Having spent the better part of his police career and his first marriage living inside a bottle, Andy managed to drive his wife, Katie, and son, Andy Jr., out of his life.
A bullet from a mobster's gun caused him to turn his life around. He was nearly killed by Alfonso Giardella. Grateful to have been given a second chance at life, Andy quit drinking and began the painful process of reassembling his life. Things were great for a while. He reconciled with Andy Jr., courted and wed Assistant District Attorney, Sylvia Costas. The couple had a son, Theo. Meanwhile, his older son, Andy Jr., became a police officer. Andy also became very good friends with his new partner, Bobby Simone.
Andy's happiness turned to heartbreak as his world crumbled around him. Andy Jr. was killed while trying to stop a robbery, Sylvia was hit by a bullet during a courthouse shooting and died in Andy's arms. Bobby Simone died of heart failure. Danny Sorensen, who became Andy's partner after Bobby's death as well as his surrogate for Andy Jr., was murdered during an undercover investigation.
Andy fell off the wagon a few times. There were other times that he thought about drinking and for a brief time, he shut out the world. Through it all, however, he's learned that you have to live your life and try to do some good with it. It's taken time, but Detective Andy Sipowicz has settled into the role of mentor to the younger detectives in the 15th squad.
Dennis On Andy
Dennis Franz is wary of happiness. He doesn't want happiness to come too easily for his character, the blunt Andy Sipowicz. "I like difficulty," says Franz. "I like it when he's on the edge. I wouldn't mind seeing him go off the wagon." When the writers decided to link Andy with Detective Connie McDowell romantically, Dennis had some doubts. He admits to being proven wrong.
"The romance will succeed dramatically if it's not easy, if there are obstacles they must overcome together. "I'd like to see her fight for me, with me and vice versa. That strengthens a relationship. "I don't mind the idea of happy ever after," he says. "But if the audience is going to accept her going for me, we have to give them a reason."
Andy and Connie aren't having an easy time of it. Andy's son, Theo, is 6 years old and Connie took over the care of her infant niece when the child's mother, Connie's sister, was killed. The couple of cops with the ready-made family is a very interesting story line. Like real life, love may not be enough and there's no guarantee for happily ever after. They have had some serious obstacles to overcome, but things are looking up for them.
Two Different Men
The Man Behind The Tough Cop
Andy Sipowicz is a fictional character brought to life by Dennis Franz. The actor is nothing like the character he has played for over ten years. Dennis Franz is described as affable, earnest, cultured and engaging, heartfelt and, for lack of a better word, nice. He's not even bothered about forever being Sipowicz in the minds of viewers.
I consider myself fortunate that I've been able to find a character that people have responded to." says Franz. "If I always have that attached to my name, that's not the worst thing in the world for a guy who wants to act for a living.
People expect Andy Sipowicz from Dennis Franz. So accustomed to the rough cop on the show, it's easy for many to forget that Sipowicz is a fictional character brought to life by an excellent actor. In March of 1998, Michael Malone from Smoke Magazine sat down with Dennis for an interview.
The consummate Everyman, a tireless worker; it's apparent that Franz would make a fine friend, a good neighbor. How dreadfully disappointing. You want him to bark at you the way Sipowicz would to a skell he's trying to coerce a confession from. You want him to seethe, to rage the way he did when Andy Jr., Sipowicz's only son, was murdered. You want him to bore through you with those piercing eyes. In an odd way, you want that bastard to reach across the table and smack you on the ear, like you see him do in that dank interrogating room upstairs. You want to squeal in pain as your swollen ear rings mercilessly. But it's not happening.
Malone, describing Dennis Franz as the polar opposite of Andy Sipowicz, went on to explain how Dennis is so easygoing that he's not the least bit bothered when his name is often improperly pronounced. Franz rhymes with bronze
, not cans
He Should Know Better
Playing a cop on a popular series has its benefits. Andy Sipowicz is liked by real life cops. He's someone they can identify with because he's flawed. This bonding has paid off on several occasions. One instance was when Dennis and his family were out for a ride in his white Jaguar.
"My license plates had expired. I was driving over the speed limit and I wasn't wearing my seatbelt. When we got pulled over, it was my wife who suggested I go into prime Sipowicz mode. When he realized who he'd pulled over, the policeman shook his head in disbelief. He told me of all people I should know better. He gave me a real dressing down, but let me go."
In an interview in January of 2001, Dennis Franz opened up about a fear he has. His father died of colorectal cancer six months after he was diagnosed. During the interview, he admitted to not realizing he was putting himself at greater risk for a similar fate.
"My doctor asked me if I smoked, and I said only when I'm working, golfing, or drinking. Then I realized the only time I don't smoke is when I'm home. I didn't even realize I'd become a smoker."
Saying he didn't feel addicted to cigarettes, kicking the habit
wasn't difficult for him. Dennis has made some other changes in his lifestyle as well.
He says he's also virtually eliminated drinking altogether, changed his eating habits and goes for annual check-ups for the disease that killed his father. It's not his favorite thing to do, but being over 50 and having a history of this type of cancer in his family, he does it.
"I lost my father to colon cancer but am happy to say I have several family members who are long time cancer survivors. Everyone needs to be pro-active and know the various warning signs. We still need to find the cures, BUT early detection and research to make detection easier at earlier stages, along with the treatments needs, is still a must. I salute all those winning the battle," said Dennis who is a celebrity ambassador for the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance (NCCRA)
For The People
Doing For Others
Dennis has taken his personal experience with the disease and decided to reach out to help others. On October 8, 2002, He joined renowned anti-cancer activist Lilly Tartikoff and Katie Couric for the first WebMD Rock 'n Race to Fight Colon Cancer, a 5K Walk and all-star musical extravaganza in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the groundbreaking event was to help generate awareness and funds for colorectal cancer. Dennis took that a step further. During the walkathon, he began conversing with a young lady who was also participating in the event. She confided in Dennis about her father's reluctance to be tested. Dennis called the man on a cell phone to speak to him personally.
The time Dennis Franz spends in front of the cameras isn't limited to playing roles in movies and television. In March of 1996, he hosted the USA Network's second one-hour special, Healing the Hate. During that hour, Dennis provided context and segues to segments that examined the direct effects of racism, sexism and intolerance, and revealed how individuals and communities cooperated to heal the human spirit after hate crimes had been committed.
On His Own Time
In his spare time, Dennis snow-skis and plays golf. He has a dog, Bigelow, and two birds, Mario and Maria. If they could speak, they would tell anyone who would listen that Dennis is an animal lover. He also enjoys listening to music, especially 50's rock and country-western.
- Emmy winner, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, NYPD Blue (1994)
- Golden Globe winner, Best Performance by an Actor in a TV-Series – Drama, NYPD Blue (1995)
- SAG Award, Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series, NYPD Blue (1995)
- Emmy winner, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, NYPD Blue (1996)
- SAG Award, Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series, NYPD Blue (1997)
- Emmy nominee, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, NYPD Blue (1998)
- Emmy winner, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, NYPD Blue (1999)
- Emmy nominee, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, NYPD Blue (2000)
- Emmy nominee, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, NYPD Blue (2001)
Quite A Man
Some of the charcters Dennis Franz has portrayed over the years have earned descriptions that range from questionable to sleezy. The actor that has brought these characters to life, however, is nothing like the roles he's most famous for. Unlike many of the characters he's played, Dennis Franz is not afraid to show his caring and sensitive side.
For all his talent and all the attention he attacts, he's a humble man. In one interview he was quoted as saying "For lack of a better term, they've labeled me a sex symbol. It's flattering and it should happen to every bald, overweight guy."
Call me old-fashioned, but I think humility counts for a lot in a person. In an entertainer, especially one as talented as Dennis Franz, it speaks volumes. May he keep fans glued to ther television sets for years to come.
The Fury: (1978) - (Bob) A secret US agency behind the unscrupulous Childres gathers children with parapsychologic abilities and trains them to become killers in war situations. To rescue his son, who was officially declared dead after an arranged accident, the former CIA agent Peter investigates against Childres.
A Wedding: (1978) - (Koons) Muffin's wedding to Dino Corelli is to be a big affair, but there are a few problems. The aging priest isn't too sure of the ceremony, only the families actually turn up as the Corelli Italian connection is suspect. Security guards watch the gifts rather over-zealously, and Dino's grandma dies in bed just as the reception begins.
Stony Island: (1978) - (Jerry Domino) A story about a group of multiracial rhythm-and-blues performers, and how they're affected by the death of veteran blues musician.
Remember My Name: (1978) - (Franks) An unhappily married man finds himself stalked by his first wife, a mentally unbalanced woman who spent the last 12 years in prison for murder.
Bleacher Bums: (1979) - A typical afternoon in the Cheap Seats at a baseball game. A bunch of Chicago Cubs fans, sitting in the bleachers watching a Cubs game on a summer afternoon. Most of them have been gathering here for some time and know each other, even if they might not necessarily like or tolerate each other. Dennis Franz plays a working class guy who dreams of just having enough money to take his wife out to his ideal fancy restaurant.
A Perfect Couple: (1979) - (Costa) A young rock singer and a middle-aged businessman meet through a computerized dating service and begin a bizarre romance.
Dressed to Kill: (1980) - (Detective Marino) The psychiatrist of a murdered woman is initially reluctant to help the police. While the detective assigned to the murder seems happy to do nothing, the investigation is left up to a prostitute who witnessed the murder and the son of the deceased.
Popeye: (1980) - (Spike) The buff sailor man travels to Sweet Haven, falls in love with Olive Oyl, adopts Sweetpea and makes an enemy with Brutus.
Chicago Story: (1981) - Franz plays Officer Joe Gilland in this story about the shooting of a little girl touches the lives of a pair of cops, a pair of lawyers and a pair of doctors.
Blow Out: (1981) (Manny Karp) - A soundman finds himself in danger after he accidentally records the evidence that proves a car accident was a murder.
Hill Street Blues: (1981) - Weekly series of an inner city police precinct. The show followed the lives of many characters, from the beat and traffic cops to the captain.
Chicago Story: (1982) (TV series) - Franz reprises his role as beat cop Joe Gilland in this series from the 1981 movie. Three lawyers, a street cop, two detectives, and two doctors in the windy city. The story depicts how an incident or person's life is affected by one or more of these people.
Psycho II: (1983) (Warren Toomey) - It's been 22 years and Norman Bates is coming home and his mother is just waiting to greet him!
Bay City Blues: (1983) (Angelo Carbone) - Ensemble drama which follows a minor league baseball team as they travel from town to town.
Body Double: (1984) (Rubin) - A young man likes to watch a beautiful female neighbor who has a habit of undressing without closing her blinds. When he witnesses a murder, he discovers that he must hunt down the killers without the help of the police, who would most likely try to blame him. They seem to love to pin crimes on peeping Toms.
Deadly Messages: (1985) (Detective Max Lucas) - Laura Daniels, a single and bored woman finds new interest in life when she discovers an old ouija board. It appears, however, that the previous owner of the board was murdered and messages from beyond warn that Laura may be next.
A Fine Mess: (1986) (Phil) - Two friends, an actor and a chef discover a plot to fix a horse race and try to capitalize on it. No easy task, though, as they have to deal with the two men who fixed it who are trying to silence them. There's also the mob boss of these two guys His wife is having an affair with the actor.
Beverly Hills Buntz: (1987) - Norman Buntz, the gruff and somewhat ethically questionable detective from Hill Street Blues heads to sunny Southern California where he opens up a detective agency.
Kiss Shot: (1989) (Max Fleischer) - When a single mom loses her job, she recalls her billiard skills to play for money. Will she be cool enough to be a pro? Things get worse when she falls in love with an opponent.
The Package: (1989) (Lieutenant Milan Delich) - A sergeant is sent with a prisoner from Germany. When the prisoner escapes in the men's room at National Airport, the sergeant begins his search for his man. Enlisting the help of his ex wife and various old friends, he finds that the prisoner is part of a plot by senior military figures on both sides to kill the Soviet premier in order to sabotage arms control talks.
Nasty Boys: (1990) (Lieutenant Stan Krieger) - The Nasty Boys are a special unit of the Las Vegas Police Department. The unit consists of undercover cops and their identities are withheld, even from the department. They only answer to their boss, who in turn only answers to the Chief.
Die Hard 2: (1990) (Capt. Carmine Lorenzo) - New York cop John McClane must battle mercenaries who seize control of an airport's communications and threaten to cause plane crashes if their demands are not met.
Nasty Boys, Part 2: Lone Justice: (1990) When his son is killed in a drug-related incident, the father sets out to wreck his revenge on two Las Vegas law enforcers. Franz returns as Lieutenant Stan Krieger.
N.Y.P.D. Mounted: (1991) (Tony Spampatta) - A wisecracking, streetwise veteran cop gets into one scrape too many on his beat, and is reassigned to the Mounted Division.
In the Line of Duty: Siege at Marion: (1993) - Dennis Franz portrays Bob Bryant, F.B.I. agent in charge of an operation to arrest Adam Swapp and his brother Jonathan are suspects in the bombing of Mormon Center in Utah. The brothers and their families hold-up on their farm with provisions and enough ammunition to withstand the government’s siege. They are devout in their beliefs and purposes and are determined to stand up for their rights.
The Player: (1992) - (Himself) A studio executive is being blackmailed by a writer whose script he rejected.
NYPD Blue: (1993) - (Detective Andy Sipowicz) Weekly series about the gritty reality of life in a New York City Police unit.
Moment of Truth: Caught in the Crossfire: (1994) - Franz portrays Gus Payne, a reporter who does some dirty work for the FBI. When the going gets tough, no one at the bureau knows anything about it.
Texas Justice: (1995) - The true story of T. Cullen Davis, the wealthy Texas businessman accused of murder. Franz portrays Davis' attorney Richard Haynes.
American Buffalo (1996) (Don 'Donny' Dubrow, Owner Rvterbands Variety) - A story of men's interminable struggle toward the top of the heap. The proprietor of a dusty dark inner-city junk shop, holds court there with his friends and makes plans on a daily basis for his ascendancy to the top. When the plan is implemented, however, it's every man for himself.
Mighty Ducks: (1996) (Voice of Captain Klegghorn) - The Mighty Ducks, an intergalactic ice-hockey team from another dimension, are trapped on Earth during a fight against their archrival. With no way to get home, they build their headquarters under a defunct hockey rink, and the crowds soon return. In their spare time, they battle criminals wherever they find them, despite the Chief Of Police's distrust, and track down their nemesis.
Mighty Ducks the Movie: The First Face-Off: (1997) (Voice of Captain Klegghorn) - The Mighty Ducks are about to lose the game until Grin scores the winning goal. The team then deploys when bad guys try to take over the world.
City of Angels: (1998) (Nathaniel Messinger) - Inspired by the modern classic, Wings of Desire, this movie is about a choice that must be made between celestial duty and earthly love. An angel watching over Los Angeles finds his job difficult as he falls in love and becomes involved with a beautiful heart surgeon. Franz plays a friendly guy who seems to know a lot about angels.