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Actress Eileen Brennan dies at 80

Thesp was Oscar-nommed for 'Private Benjamin'

Eileen Brennan, the veteran actress best known for roles in “The Last Picture Show,” “Private Benjamin” and “Clue,” died of bladder cancer in her Burbank home on Sunday. She was 80.

Brennan earned critical praise and an Oscar nom for her supporting role as Captain Doreen Lewis in “Private Benjamin,” in which she starred opposite Goldie Hawn. She went on to reprise the role for three seasons on CBS’ television adaptation of “Private Benjamin.” That role earned Brennan both an Emmy and a Golden Globe in 1981. She earned another Emmy nom for her leading role on “Taxi” that same year.

Brennan also starred as the memorable brothel madam Billie, a confidant to con man Paul Newman in the 1973 Oscar best picture winner “The Sting;” as Mrs. Peacock in “Clue;” as a kind-hearted Texas waitress in “The Last Picture Show;” and as Peter Falk’s long-suffering secretary Tess in the Agatha Christie motion picture lampoon “Murder by Death.”

Brennan cut her comic teeth as a regular on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” in the late 1960s.

Later, she had a memorable guest stint on “All in the Family” in which she was stuck in an elevator with Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor), a haughty black man, a Puerto Rican janitor and his pregnant wife.  A frequent guest star, Brennan went on to earn Emmy nominations for her guest appearances on “Newhart,” “thirtysomething,” and “Will & Grace.”

Her career in both television and film included series regular roles on skeins including “13 Queens Boulevard,” “A New Kind of Family,” “Blossom” and “The All-New Dennis the Menace.”

Brennan took a brief hiatus soon after wrapping the TV adaptation of “Private Benjamin,” when she was hit by a car in Venice, Calif. in October 1982. Brennan suffered severe injuries to her legs and jaw, had an eyeball wrenched from its socket and broke multiple bones in her face. The aftermath of the accident led Brennan to an addiction to prescription pain medications, as well as a dependence on antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills.

But Brennan continued to work; in early 1984 she returned to the small screen in the ABC laffer “Off the Rack,” and went into treatment at the Betty Ford Center soon after.

A Los Angeles native, Brennan was born in 1932 to Regina Manahan, a silent film actress, and John Gerald Brennen, a doctor. She attended Georgetown University and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts before landing the title role in the off-Broadway production of “Little Mary Sunshine” in 1959.

That performance scored Brennan an Obie Award and a “Promising New Personality” Theatre World Award, which she earned alongside eight other thesps that included Warren Beatty, Jane Fonda and Carol Burnett.

Other early gigs included the original 1964 Broadway production of “Hello, Dolly,” in which Brennan played Irene Malloy, and a role opposite Dustin Hoffman in the TV movie, “The Star Wagon.”

Brennan’s survivors include her sons Sam and Patrick, daughter-in-law Jessica, sister Kate and grandchildren Liam and Maggie. She was married to British-born poet-photographer David Lampson, whom she divorced in 1975.

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