Dabney Coleman, Veteran Actor Known for Curmudgeonly Roles, Passes Away at 92

Remembering Dabney Coleman's impactful career in film and TV.

by Nouman Rasool
Dabney Coleman, Veteran Actor Known for Curmudgeonly Roles, Passes Away at 92
© Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images

The character actor Dabney Coleman, known for his sardonic and often acerbic film classics "9 to 5" and "Tootsie," died at the age of 92. His daughter Quincy Coleman confirmed his death and said the actor had passed in his sleep at home in Santa Monica on Thursday.

A career that spanned six decades, over which time Coleman nailed his roles, imprinting himself within the celluloid and on the small screen throughout a Hollywood career. Known for his archetypal roles as smarmy villains and pressurized authority figures, he possessed a certain charm and wry humor that made even the most disagreeable characters engaging.

He was great as the boss Franklin Hart Jr. in "9 to 5" and obnoxious TV director Ron Carlisle in "Tootsie," memorable performances that drove home his fine ability to play with fun at being the epitome of the villain. Before he rose to fame, Coleman spent years performing as an actor, hardworking yet under-recognized by most.

And then he got the motivation while portraying Mayor Merle Jeeter in the satirical soap opera "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," which became his big break role and household name. It gave him a start in more important roles in film and television production, due to his value as a character actor.

Coleman's Diverse Roles

Among his many awards, Coleman won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of the title character in "The Slap Maxwell Story" and an Emmy as best supporting actor in the legal drama "Sworn to Silence." On film, his roles range from the computer scientist in "War Games" to the father of Tom Hanks' character in "You've Got Mail." He also had notable parts in "The Towering Inferno," "North Dallas Forty," and "Cloak and Dagger," among others.

Coleman's television career was mixed, with several shows failing to capture a broad audience. However, he found success with roles in series like "The Guardian" and as the voice of Principal Prickly in the animated series "Recess." Off-screen, Coleman was known for his reserved and introspective nature, a stark contrast to the brash characters he often portrayed.

He once reflected on his personal life and motivations for acting, attributing his career choice to a dynamic meeting with actor Zachry Scott, which inspired him to leave law school and study acting in New York. Coleman's legacy extends beyond his film and TV roles; he was also a father and grandfather who was described by his daughter Quincy as someone who "crafted his time here on earth with a curious mind, a generous heart, and a soul on fire with passion, desire, and humor."