Childhood & Early Life
Born in a leap year on February 29, 1944, in the Old Town neighbourhood of Chicago, Illinois, Dennis Farina was the youngest of the seven children of Joseph, a doctor originally from Villalba, Sicily, and Yolanda, a homemaker. The family lived a North Avenue home in Old Town. Their neighbours were working-class families hailing from different cultures. Among them, the Germans and the Italians were the most prominent.
Farina attended St Michael Central High School, graduating in 1962. After this, he enlisted in the US Army at the advent of the Vietnam War and subsequently served in that country for the next three years. After he returned home, he joined the Chicago Police Department, following the suggestion of one of his brothers, an attorney. He was part of the force for the next 18 years and at the time of his retirement, he had been serving as a detective.
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Dennis Farina served in the police force from 1967 to 1985, predominantly in the burglary department. In 1978, he was hired by director Michael Mann to help him scout for locations for a crime film. Mann, who is a Chicago native himself, wanted to use the city as the backdrop for his first feature film.
Soon, a working relationship formed between the two, which would last for the next three decades. Mann even cast Farina in his debut film ‘Thief’ (1981). He played a character named Carl and worked alongside James Caan, James Belushi, and Tuesday Weld. *Farina’s second film was the Chuck Norris-starrer ‘Code of Silence’ (1985). In 1986, he was cast as Jack Crawford in ‘Manhunter’, the first film adaptation of the novel ‘Red Dragon’ by Thomas Harris. This was his second film with Mann.
He made his small screen debut in 1983 in the telefilm ‘Through Naked Eyes’. He followed it up by appearing in another telefilm, ‘Hard Knox’ (1984). He worked with Mann in the latter’s show ‘Miami Vice’, which was also his first television series.
Farina’s portrayal of the frightening and comically foul-mouthed Jimmy Serrano, who serves as Robert De Niro’s (playing the character Jack Walsh) bête noire in the 1988 action comedy ‘Midnight Run’, earned him critical praise.
In 1990, he was cast in ‘Men of Respect’, a modern-day adaptation of William Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’. Farina portrayed Bankie Como, a character based on Banquo from the original play. He played an unaccredited role in Sydney Pollack’s drama film ‘Havana’ and a character named Mr Stunder in John Turturro’s Caméra d'Or award-winning drama ‘Mac’ (1992).
Farina landed his first starring role in the 1991 action-comedy ‘We're Talkin' Serious Money’. He played Sal, one part of a misfit duo. The other, Charlie, was played by Leo Rossi. Sal and Charlie get into trouble after they borrow $10,000 from the mafia. They flee to Los Angeles to get a fresh start but only end up in trouble again.
In the late 1980s and the early 1990s, Farina appeared in a series of telefilms. They were ‘Six Against the Rock’ (1987), ‘Open Admissions’ (1988), ‘The Case of the Hillside Stranglers’ (1989), ‘Blind Faith’ (1990), ‘People Like Us’ (1990), ‘Perfect Crimes’ (1991), and ‘Drug Wars: The Cocaine Cartel’ (1992). Farina also appeared in the 1992 miniseries ‘Cruel Doubt’, which was based on the book of the same name by Joe McGinniss.
Farina starred opposite Bette Middler in the 1997 romantic-comedy ‘That Old Feeling’. Even in this film, which is about an estranged couple rekindling their romance in the midst of their daughter’s wedding, Farina maintained his usual approach to acting. He always kept his characters relatable without being too cerebral about his craft.
British director Guy Ritchie cast Farina in his crime comedy masterpiece ‘Snatch’ (2000) as Cousin Avi Denovitz, a New York-based jeweller. In 2007, he starred in the teen comedy ‘National Lampoon's Bag Boy’. Farina played Joe May in the 2011 drama film ‘The Last Rites of Joe May’. The musical comedy ‘Lucky Stiff’ was his final film. It was released posthumously in 2014.
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In 1998, he played the titular character in CBS’ short-lived crime drama series ‘Buddy Faro’. From 2002 to 2003, he appeared as Victor Pellet in NBC’s sitcom ‘In Laws’. Farina joined the cast of NBC’s long-running police procedural show ‘Law & Order’ as Det. Joe Fontana in 2004 and went on to appear in 46 episodes.
In early 2005, he lent his voice to Wildcat, the boxer turned superhero, in ‘Justice League Unlimited’. That year, he also appeared in the miniseries ‘Empire Falls’.
Farina replaced Robert Stack as the host and narrator of Spike TV’s ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ in 2008. Between 2011 and 2012, he starred alongside Dustin Hoffman in HBO’s drama series ‘Luck’. His last TV project was an episode of Fox’s animated series, ‘Family Guy’.
Dennis Farina’s portrayal of Lt. Mike Torello in the show ’Crime Story’ (1986-88) is generally considered his finest hour on the screen. It was an NBC police drama that was revolutionary for its storytelling format. It presented a continuing storyline over the course of one season rather than being episodic, which was the norm in the 1980s.
In 1995, he was cast in the crime comedy ‘Get Shorty’ as Ray "Bones" Barboni, unarguably one of his most important roles. He played a Miami-based gangster who starts clashing with a loan shark named Chili Palmer (John Travolta) over a stolen coat. A critical and commercial success, ‘Get Shorty’ was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. Farina won the American Comedy Award in 1996 for Funniest Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for his performance.
Dennis Farina married a woman named Patricia in 1970 and had three children with her: Dennis Jr., Michael, and Joseph. Furthermore, he had four grandsons: Michael, Tyler, Matthew and Eric, and two granddaughters: Brianna and Olivia. Joseph has followed his father’s footsteps into the entertainment industry as an actor and producer. Farina and Patricia divorced in 1980, after a decade of marriage. He spent the most of his later life with his long-time girlfriend Marianne Cahill in Chicago and Scottsdale, Arizona.
On May 11, 2008, Farina was arrested after it was discovered that he had been carrying a loaded .22-caliber pistol through the Los Angeles International Airport security. After being transferred to the Los Angeles Police Department's Pacific Division, he was charged with suspicion of carrying a concealed weapon. The initial bail was set at $25,000 but it was raised to $35,000 when the police found out that the gun was unregistered.
He kept saying that the gun was in his briefcase because he had just forgotten that it had been there and that he had no intention of taking it on a plane. Eventually, he agreed to a plea bargain with the prosecutors. Pleading no contest, Farina was given two years of probation on July 17, 2008.
On July 22, 2013, Farina died of a pulmonary embolism in a Scottsdale, Arizona hospital. He was buried in his hometown’s Mount Carmel Cemetery.