9 To 5 Actor Dabney Coleman Dead At 92

Actor Dabney Coleman has died on May 17, 2024 at the age of 92 (per The Hollywood Reporter). "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," his daughter, Quincy Coleman, said in a statement. "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."

A prolific film and television character actor well-known for his portrayals of smarmy egoists and humorously cranky curmudgeons, Coleman was born in born in Austin, Texas on January 3, 1932, per Turner Classic Movies. Coleman graduated from Virginia Military Institute, served in the army, and studied law at the University of Texas before graduating with a theater degree. He then to moved to New York for acting classes at the Neighborhood Playhouse. Per The New York Times, he went on to Los Angeles and spent years making guest appearances on countless television shows before breaking through with a role on the satirical soap opera send-up "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman."

Coleman's role of Merle Jeeter, the father of a murdered child evangelist, was meant to be temporary, but he went on to be a regular character with a series of bizarre plotlines along with the rest of the cast. This led to the creation of what the Times called "The Dabney Coleman Character: vain, irascible and unabashedly self-involved." Said Coleman of the way writers sometimes wrote for him and The Character: "They're trying to be funny, usually. Trying to make a joke. And that's not what I do, you know. It's not jokes; it's not words. It's acting. It's acting funny."

Dabney Coleman played a series of unforgettable jerks

As Dabney Coleman became a regular on television, he also began appearing in Hollywood films (via IMDb), including the disaster cinema classic "The Towering Inferno," "North Dallas Forty," and "Melvin and Howard." He kicked off the 1980s with an appearance as an evil boss who faces a hilarious, much deserved comeuppance from a trio of disgruntled employees played by Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin in the classic comedy "9 to 5," per Turner Classic Movies. A year later, he reunited with Jane Fonda, playing her husband alongside acting legends Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn in the Academy Award-winning "On Golden Pond." In 1982, The Character was back again when Coleman played a sexist soap opera director in another critical and commercial hit, "Tootsie." 

In 1983, Coleman began a run on critically acclaimed television shows that failed to find their audiences. He starred as an overbearing talk show host on "Buffalo Bill," earning two Emmy nominations, and went on to play the title role of a curmudgeonly sportswriter in "The Slap Maxwell Story," for which he won a Golden Globe. Coleman won more awards for the HBO biopic "Murrow," in which he played CBS executive William S. Paley as well as the legal drama miniseries "Sworn To Silence." He went back to television in the early 1990s, starring in the sitcom "Drexel's Class," in which he played a former CEO who becomes a middle school teacher, and "Madman of the People," appearing as an acerbic newspaper columnist.

I couldn't imagine anyone not loving playing those parts

Dabney Coleman continued appearing in movies throughout the 1990s, including "Amos and Andrew," The Beverly Hillbillies," and "You've Got Mail." He performed the voice of Principal Pickley on the animated series "Recess" for several years and starred in the legal drama "The Guardian" as the head of a family law firm. In 2010, per an interview with The AV Club, executive producer, writer, and creator of the HBO series "Boardwalk Empire" offered Coleman the role of Commodore Louis Kaestner, a character that was supposed to be killed off after six episodes, but went on to drive much of the plot of the show's second season. 

In a 2010 interview with Vulture, the writer asked Coleman if he was proud of having made television safe for jerky lead characters, to which Coleman replied, "It's fun playing those roles. You get to do outlandish things, things that you want to do, probably, in real life but you just don't because you're a civilized human being. There are no holds barred when you're playing [jerks] — I couldn't imagine anyone not loving playing those parts." Coleman made cameo appearances in the 2016 film "Rules Don't Apply" opposite Warren Beatty and the 2019 television show "Yellowstone" opposite Kevin Costner. He is survived by his four children.