LOS ANGELES — Dennis Farina, the former Chicago cop turned film and television actor best known for his role as wise-cracking detective Joe Fontana on the hit NBC police drama “Law & Order,” died in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Monday, his publicist said. He was 69.
Farina, who parlayed his experience as a police officer, a Chicago-accented baritone and straight-talking demeanor into a series of tough-guy roles in Hollywood, died after suffering a blood clot in his lung, his publicist Lori De Waal said.
“I was stunned and saddened to hear about Dennis’ unexpected passing this morning,” Dick Wolf, creator and executive producer of “Law & Order,” said in a written statement. “The ‘Law & Order’ family extends sympathy and condolences to his family. He was a great guy.”
The Chicago-born Farina earned his first credited screen role in a bit part in the 1981 Michael Mann film “Thief” and went on to play mobsters in two more films — appearing as Jimmy Serrano in the 1988 comic action adventure “Midnight Run,” starring Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin, and as Ray “Bones” Barboni in the 1995 gangster satire “Get Shorty,” with John Travolta and Gene Hackman.
He gained wider attention on the NBC television series “Crime Story,” portraying Lt. Mike Torello, head of the Chicago Police Department’s organized crime unit, during the show’s two-season run from 1986 to 1988.
Farina’s role on “Law & Order” from 2004 to 2006 also played on the actor’s real-life law enforcement background, with his character on the show, Joe Fontana, landing in the New York Police Department via Chicago.
Despite his background as a cop, Farina made headlines with his own brush with the law in 2008 when he was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport for carrying a loaded handgun on his way to board a plane.
The actor told police he had brought the pistol with him on a drive from Arizona to Los Angeles and had forgotten it was in his briefcase when he tried to pass through airport security.
He later pleaded no contest — roughly equivalent to a guilty plea in California — to carrying a weapon into a secure area of an airport and was sentenced to two years of probation.
The actor’s final starring role was in the short-lived HBO TV mob and horse-racing drama “Luck,” opposite Dustin Hoffman. The critically acclaimed series was canceled after its first season due to the death of three horses during production.
Farina also played small parts in the 1998 caper film “Out of Sight,” starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, as well as Steven Spielberg’s 1998 Oscar-winning World War Two epic “Saving Private Ryan” and the current Fox TV comedy “New Girl.”
Farina is survived by three sons, six grandchildren and his partner of 35 years, Marianne Cahill.