Dabney Coleman dies at 92: '9 to 5' star and Hollywood's 'delightfully obnoxious' villain gets fitting tribute from fans

Dabney Coleman dies at 92: '9 to 5' star and Hollywood's 'delightfully obnoxious' villain gets fitting tribute from fans
'9 to 5' star Dabney Coleman who played died at the age of 92 (20th Century Fox)

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK: Legendary actor Dabney Coleman has died at the age of 92. The actor breathed his last on May 17, at his home in Santa Monica, California, his daughter Quincy Coleman told People in a statement. 

"My father crafted his time here on Earth with a curious mind, a generous heart and a soul on fire with passion, desire and humor that tickled the funny bone of humanity,” Quincy said. “As he lived, he moved through this final act of his life with elegance, excellence and mastery. A teacher, a hero and a king, Dabney Coleman is a gift and blessing in life and in death as his spirit will shine through his work, his loved ones and his legacy eternally" Quincy added. 

Dabney Coleman in 'Tootsie' (Columbia Pictures)
Dabney Coleman in 'Tootsie' (Columbia Pictures)

Coleman is survived by his sister, Beverly Coleman McCall; his children Meghan, Kelly, Randy, and Quincy Coleman, and grandchildren Hale and Gabe Torrance, Luie Freundl, and Kai and Coleman Biancaniello.

Dabney Coleman played Hollywood's ultimate comic villains

Coleman worked in Hollywood for over six decades, with roles in films including '9 to 5', 'Tootsie' and 'You've Got Mail'. On TV, he starred in shows including 'Buffalo Bill' and 'Boardwalk Empire'. He appeared in more than 60 film and TV projects and was best known for playing bad guys.


Dabney Coleman and his early life

Coleman was born in Austin in 1932. He was one of four children, raised by a single mother after his father died of pneumonia. In a 1984 interview, he linked his affinity for playing louts to his childhood.

“Since I was a kid I played that role. I was very small until I got out of college,” he told The Washington Post. “Until then I was a mini-person, and I think that I was a little extra aggressive to compensate. To be the brat — maybe even that was to attract attention, some kind of identity."

He attended college at the Virginia Military Institute, and he was drafted into the Army in 1953. After his return, he finished college at the University of Texas. After meeting an actor, he realized he wanted to be one too. From 1958 to 1960, he trained with Sanford Meisner at New York City’s Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre.

One of his first TV roles came in 1961’s 'Naked City'. He appeared in series like 'The Alfred Hitchcock Hour', 'The Fugitive', 'I Dream of Jeannie', 'The Donna Reed Show', 'That Girl', 'The Flying Nun', 'Bonanza and The Mod Squad'. His early film roles included 'Cinderella Liberty' and 'The Towering Inferno.'

In 1973, he grew a mustache, which he kept for the rest of his life and career. “Without the mustache, I looked too much like Richard Nixon,” he told Vulture in 2010. “There’s no question that when I grew that mustache, all of a sudden, everything changed.” In 1975, he got attention for his role as Merle Jeeter on 'Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman'. 

Dabney Coleman in 'Ray Donovan' (Showtime)
Dabney Coleman in 'Ray Donovan' (Showtime)

Dabney Coleman and breakthrough role in '9 to 5'

But the turning point in his career came when he was cast in 1980’s '9 to 5 as Franklin Hart Jr, the diabolical boss that terrorizes the characters played by Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton.

“The girls were so supportive of me, and included me in everything,” he explained to Vulture. “They were on a whole different level than I was at the time, but they were very sensitive about that, and made sure that I was included in every publicity shot and tour. All three of them insisted, ‘Where’s Dabney? Get him in here!’ They’re all three unique and wonderful ladies, all three of them.”

Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, Dabney Coleman, and Lily Tomlin in '9 to 5' (20th Century Fox)
Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, Dabney Coleman, and Lily Tomlin in '9 to 5' (20th Century Fox)

Coleman played another sexist jerk in the 1982 film Tootsie, which he didn’t expect to be as successful as it ultimately was. “We really had no idea when we were making the film how good it was going to be. At the time, it just didn’t seem that funny. No one was laughing on set,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2012.

The actor had a rare starring role on the 1983–1984 sitcom 'Buffalo Bill', playing the titular Bill, a sexist radio show host in Buffalo, New York. “I don't consider myself an evil s.o.b., but it is fun to play those characters because they are so well defined,” he told People in 1983. Looking back on his career in 2012, he told The AV Club it was his favorite role, calling it “heaven on earth.”

Because he played the same type of horrible man over and over, audiences started to assume that’s who he was. "It isn't me," he told The New York Times in 1994. “Well, it is me socially, in a way. It's me kidding around. I mean, I kid around with that humor. And with that kind of character. And so in the course of a social evening, you'll see a lot of that, but that isn't who I am. That's just a guy that I'm playing, just to fool around, you know."

Coleman was a six-time Emmy nominee, winning in 1987 for the TV film 'Sworn to Silence'. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2014. He was also an accomplished tennis player; termed as once considered the best celebrity player in Hollywood.

Internet pays tribute to Dabney Coleman

Fans paid tribute to the late iconic actor. One user tweeted, "I’m going to watch Hot to Trot in his honor." Another said, "RIP indeed. Damn we're losing too many greats!" "RIP just saw him on an episode of Columbo episode 'Double Shock'" added another. 




"My favorite of his was Short Time, really underrated comedy from 1990, but then my brother-in-law introduced me to Boardwalk Empire last year. Wow, what a performance! RIP Mr. Coleman" remembered one fan. "Such a versatile actor. Rest in Peace" tweeted one user. 



One user said, "Can I just add Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman What a great show and Dabney was terrific in it."


Another one said, "Oh damn!. Love that guy. Some of my favorites like Cloak & Dagger and 9to5. RIP"


One fan gushed, "Buffalo Bill. A show 10 years ahead of its time."


One user praised, "I liked him. He was delightfully obnoxious."


Another one said, "The man was cinematic comfort food. Always happy when. he shows up"


This article contains remarks made on the Internet by individual people and organizations. MEAWW cannot confirm them independently and does not support claims or opinions being made online.

Share this article:  Dabney Coleman dies at 92: '9 to 5' star and Hollywood's 'delightfully obnoxious' villain gets fitting tribute from fans