Childhood & Early Life
Dennis Franz was born on 28 October 1944, in Maywood, Illinois. His parents, Eleanor and Franz Ferdinand, were German immigrants who were employed as postal workers. He has two older sisters, Heidi and Marlene; and they grew up in the suburbs of Chicago.
He graduated from Proviso East High School in 1962 where he was active in various sports, including baseball and swimming. He then attended the Southern Illinois University Carbondale and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in speech and theatre in 1968.
Franz was drafted into the United States Army immediately after his graduation. He served the country for 11 months in Vietnam where he was under the 82nd Airbone Divison and the 101st Airbone Division.
Upon his return from the army, he followed his parents’ footsteps and began working in the Postal department as a mailman. However, he realized that he was passionate about acting and theatre and soon left his job in the Postal department to pursue a career in acting.
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Dennis Franz began his acting career by immersing himself at Chicago's Organic Theater Company in the 1970s. He started performing in different plays, including ‘Bleacher Bums’ in 1978.
He was noticed by TV producer, Steven Bochco, when Franz was touring with one of the theatre companies. Bochco casted Franz in some of his shows, and a friendship formed between the two.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, Franz worked with directors, Brian De Palma and Robert Altman and appeared in several of their movies, including ‘Remember My Name’ (1978), ‘Dressed to Kill’ (1980), and ‘The Body Double’ (1984).
His first major role on television was the series, ‘Hill Street Blues’ (1983-1987) in which he played two different characters during the course of the show. His role as Detective Sal Benedetto was so popular that he returned as Lt. Norm Buntz for the remainder of the series.
He received the "Villain of the Year" award by TV Guide for his portrayal of Sal Benedetto in ‘Hill Street Blues’. He next acted in the mini-series, ‘Bay City Blues’, which is about a minor league baseball team.
Throughout the 1980s, he was mostly cast either as a detective or a police officer in the movies that he did, including ‘Blow Out’, ‘Scarface’, ‘The Package’ and ‘Die Hard 2’.
From 1987 to 1988, Franz starred in ‘Beverly Hills Buntz’, which was a spin-off of ‘Hill Street Blues’. He played Norman Buntz again, but the series was short-lived. He has even stated that this role led to him being pigeonholed as a police officer. Around the same time, he also guest-voiced as himself in a ‘Simpsons’ episode, ‘Homer Badman’.
He appeared in ‘Die Hard 2,’ the sequel of the part 1 of the super-hit franchise, ‘Die Hard’ in 1990. He essayed the role of the temperamental chief of police, Carmine Lorenzo.
His most successful role has been his portrayal of Detective Andy Sipowicz on ‘NYPD Blue’, which was written and produced by Steven Bochco. The series was hugely successful and ran for 12 seasons with over 250 episodes (1993-2005). Franz went on to win four Emmy Awards for his performance.
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'NYPB Blue’ was a commercial and critical success. It was praised for realistic performances by its actors, and TV Guide ranked the series at 44 on its list of the ‘60 best Television Shows of All Time’. Franz’s commanding stature in his portrayal of Detective Andy Sipowicz won him a Golden Globe Award in 1995.
His character as Sipowicz was ranked among the ‘100 Greatest TV Characters’ list by Bravo. He was also awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1999 for his services to the industry. The influence of this role was such that he exists as the quintessential cop in the public imagination.
In 2001, Franz was a contestant on the celebrity edition of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’. His prize money of $250,000 was distributed to charity. During this period, he was also a spokesperson for Nextel, a communications company. According to Nextel, the appeal of hiring the actor lay in the fact that he wouldn’t actively endorse anything.
Since the ending of ‘NYPD Blue’ in 2005, he has stayed out of the limelight. He wanted to focus on his personal life and return to acting only if there was a suitable opportunity. His last public appearance was during 2016 Primetime Emmy Awards.
Post ‘NYPD Blue’, Franz has taken a keen interest in philanthropy and works toward spreading awareness about cancer. He joined a 5K walk event with renowned anti-cancer activists and participated in a musical extravaganza.
Family & Personal Life
Dennis Franz married his longtime partner Joanie Zeck in 1995. They had been together since 1982. He has two stepdaughters, Tricia and Krista Franza, from Zeck’s previous marriage. The family lives in Idaho.
Franz in an animal lover. He has a dog, Bigelow, and two birds, Mario and Maria. He also loves skiing and playing golf.
Dennis Franz wanted to become an actor as a teen and accompanied his girlfriend to an audition for "The Crucible" in high school. He subsequently got this part.
His recipes are included in ‘The Cop Cookbook’ published in 1997. The book by Greta Garner-Hewitt, Ken Beck and Jim Clark featured recipes from police officers and actors who have portrayed cops. These recipes were his original creations.
In the video, ‘Goodbye Earl’ by the Dixie Chicks, Franz is cast as Earl.