Youtube.com/FilmRise True Crime | Getty Images
Source: Youtube.com/FilmRise True Crime | Getty Images

Dennis Farina Never Revealed His Diagnosis — In His Last Days, He Could Not Breathe

Bettina Dizon
Feb 18, 2022
10:43 A.M.
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Dennis Farina, best known for his role in the crime drama "Law & Order," was a cop before he pursued a career in acting. He died at 69 and could not breathe during his last moments because of a diagnosis kept secret from the public.


Hollywood star Dennis Farina was already 37 years old when he switched professional careers and became an on-screen actor. Fortunately, he was good at his craft and quickly became known on television following his appearance on "Law & Order."

Unfortunately, the actor's life was cut short due to a terminal illness. He died in 2013 after living out his Hollywood dream. Here's a glimpse of Dennis' career and untimely death.

Dennis Farina during The Gersh Agency Celebrates New York Upfronts at Quo in New York City, New York, United States. | Source: Getty Images



Before pursuing his acting career, Dennis' first love was law enforcement. He served in the Chicago Police Department in the burglary unit for 18 years before realizing his Hollywood dream. Not thinking about his age, Dennis followed his interest and joined the entertainment industry.

He debuted on the big screen, starring in the 1981 Michael Mann movie "Thief." In 1988, he starred alongside Robert De Niro in the action-adventure film "Midnight Run," and in 1995, he graced the screens with John Travolta and Gene Hackman in "Get Shorty."

The Italian-American actor became a familiar face in Mann's movies, transcending from one role to another. As the director believed in Dennis' skills, he helped him further his career with more film appearances, such as "Miami Vice."


1995 actor Dennis Farina poses for a portrait in Los Angeles, California. | Photo: Getty Images


His experience in law enforcement was pivotal in his career, and from 1986 to 1988, Dennis joined the cast of "Crime Story." He brought life to Lieutenant Mike Torello, Chicago Police Department's head of organized crime.


Mantegna revealed that his friend, Dennis, suffered from physical and emotional struggles, which was quite common for men on the force.

In 2004, he joined the "Law and Order" franchise replacing Jerry Orbach, who moved to the show's spin-off, "Trial By Jury." The show's executive producer, Dick Wolf, made it known that he always had Dennis in mind.

Dennis Farina during G'Day LA Penfolds Gala Black Tie Dinner at Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, California, United States. | Photo: Getty Images


Wolf's consideration came during the days Dennis guest-starred on "Miami Vice." Wolf once recalled him and Dennis conversing about an episode where the actor pointed out some of his errors. Out of Dennis' 52 film credits, he appeared in only 11 cop-related movies.

Dennis' final starring role came in "Luck," an HBO TV horse-racing drama. Although the show was critically acclaimed, three horses died amidst its first season production. As such, the show was canceled.

Dennis Farina during NBC Affiliates Party - June 2, 1987 at Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, California | Photo: Getty Images



When the cameras stopped rolling, Dennis lived a life with three children, Joe, Michael, and Dennis Jr, whom he had during his marriage to Patricia Farina.

When their decade-long union ended, the kids went to live with Patricia but kept a close bond with their father. They always supported him in his career and even attended his debut on-stage performance, "A Prayer for My Daughter."

Joe came with his mother and recalled "clapping and cheering and yelling, 'That's my dad up there!" Following his marriage, Dennis moved on with his long-time partner Marianne Cahill, who was with him until death.


Dennis Farina attends the 23rd Annual Chicago Film Critics Awards Press Conference at the Ritz Carlton on January 7, 2012 | Photo: Getty Images


Dennis passed away in 2013. At the time of his passing, TMZ received reports that a woman had called 911 and revealed that the actor could not breathe and needed oxygen. The public knew of Dennis's medical condition only after his death – he had lung cancer.


A report from Dr. Marc A Kates, who was his doctor, showed that the actor battled lung cancer for 13 years. Dr. Kates noted that the cancer had started small, and Farina underwent treatment. However, the cancer returned during the last months of his life.

He experienced a blood clot that developed in his lungs, explaining why Dennis had breathing difficulties. Following his death, Cahill was in the news after selling off the last of the actor's properties.

Dennis Farina attends the premiere of "The Last Rites of Joe May" during the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival at Clearview Cinemas on April 22, 2011 | Photo: Getty Images



During his time in Hollywood, Dennis made several friends, including Mann and Joe Mantegna. Following his death, Mantegna said in a tweet:

"Words cannot express how I feel about the passing of my dear friend Dennis Farina. He was like a brother to me. I'm in shock."

Mantegna revealed that his friend suffered from physical and emotional struggles, which was quite common for men on the force. However, Dennis left a legacy despite his shortcomings through his films and shows.

Dennis Farina attends the premiere of "The Last Rites of Joe May" during the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival at Clearview Cinemas | Photo: Getty Images



The actor also left a legacy through his child, Joe, who followed in the entertainment industry as an actor. Joe graduated from Gordon Tech High School and studied psychology at DePaul University. He then worked in sales and customer service before pursuing a career in Hollywood.

Joe took steps to master his craft, studying acting at the Piven Theatre, Second City, after being inspired by his father. He recalled:

"The best summer vacation ever, the summer before I started high school. Just watching how my dad behaved on the set, nice to everybody, was a great lesson. But I wasn't ready to follow in his footsteps for a good long time."


Dennis Farina attends Windy City West At M Street Kitchen And Stella Rossa Pizza Bar In Santa Monica on March 5, 2012 | Photo: Getty Images

In 2009, Joe appeared in the movie "Riff Raff" alongside Rob Belushi. He later had a small role in "Chicago Fire" before landing a starring role as a bad cop in "Strapped."