×

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.

More Film

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Michael B. Jordan's 'Just Mercy' Moves to Awards Season Slot

    Michael B. Jordan’s upcoming legal drama “Just Mercy” has been shifted forward three weeks from Jan. 17 to Dec. 25 for an Oscar-qualifying theatrical release. “Just Mercy” is based on the case of Walter McMillan, an African-American death-row prisoner who was exonerated in 1993 after being convicted five years earlier for a 1986 murder in [...]

  • Harry Styles to Play Prince Eric

    Harry Styles in Talks to Play Prince Eric in Disney's 'Little Mermaid'

    Harry Styles is going under the sea. The former One Direction frontman is in early negotiations to play Prince Eric in Disney’s live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.” Halle Bailey will portray the Ariel, a mermaid princess who dreams of being a human, while Melissa McCarthy is playing her evil aunt Ursula. “The Little Mermaid” [...]

  • Stuber Movie

    Disney Left With a Slate of Film Flops After Fox Deal

    Is Disney having buyer’s remorse? The studio would be forgiven if it were having some regrets after absorbing 20th Century Fox, the company that once generated big box office with the likes of “Avatar,” “Life of Pi,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” After “Dark Phoenix” bombed earlier this summer, Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista’s action comedy “Stuber” [...]

  • Taika Waititi Returning to Direct 'Thor

    Taika Waititi to Direct Marvel's 'Thor 4'

    Taika Waititi is returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The filmmaker will write and direct the sequel to his 2017 blockbuster “Thor: Ragnarok.” Waititi’s take on the fourth “Thor” movie puts Warner Bros.’ long-in-development “Akira” adaptation on hold indefinitely. However, the studio hopes that “Akira” can get resume production with Waititi at the helm once [...]

  • Akira

    'Akira' Production Put on Hold by Warner Bros.

    Warner Bros. has put its long-in-development “Akira” adaptation on hold indefinitely, sources tell Variety. Sources indicate that after a brief delay, the studio has pulled the plug on production indefinitely for the classic anime adaptation, which was set to begin later this fall. “Thor: Ragnarok” helmer Taika Waititi was on board to direct, and the [...]

  • Sir Elton John, David Furnish. Sir

    New Elton John AIDS Foundation Gala to be Held in the South of France

    Elton John and David Furnish are launching a new gala for the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The two will host the inaugural A Midsummer Party benefit on July 24 in the south of France at the Johnny Pigozzi’s private estate, Villa Dorane, in Cap d’Antibes. A cocktail reception will be followed by dinner, a live [...]

  • Sebastian Maniscalco Green Book

    Sebastian Maniscalco Moves Into Movies With 'Green Book' and 'The Irishman'

    As a comedian whose routines not only lampoon Italian stereotypes but demand larger-than-life performances of those cultural peccadilloes, Sebastian Maniscalco has carefully — if inadvertently — created a niche for himself as an actor. In 2018, in between selling out shows at Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden, he took his first steps [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content