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'Law & Order' Star Dennis Farina, A Real-Life Tough Guy, Dead at 69

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Jul 22, 2013 | 2:47pm EDT
Credit: Nikki Nelson/WENN

Character actor Dennis Farina, best known for his stint as Det. Joe Fontana on Law & Order, has died of a blood clot in his lung, the Los Angeles Times confirms. He was 69.

Though he had made a late-career shift into TV, Farina, born in 1943, had many memorable big screen roles in movies like Midnight Run, Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and Saving Private Ryan. Unlike so many actors, his tough-guy persona was no act. Farina, a Chicago native, originally patrolled the Windy City as a cop before catching the acting bug in his late 30s. That experience enabled him to bring a gruff, world-weariness to characters like Lt. Mike Torello on NBC's two-season cop drama Crime Story, which has become a cult favorite since its cancellation in 1988.

Crime Story was produced by Michael Mann, who had cast Farina in his movies Thief and Manhunter and would continue to be a frequent collaborator until the end: Farina's last role was as Dustin Hoffman's chauffeur and "muscle" on HBO's Luck in 2012, a show co-created by Mann.

But it's his work on Law & Order that gained him a whole new following. In 2004, following the death of Jerry Orbach, who'd played the iconic character Lenny Briscoe for over a decade, Law & Order was in jeopardy of coming to a screeching halt. Farina stepped in and, though he couldn't match Orbach's sense of streetwise intellectualism, opting for instead a more bullish, hard-charging approach, arguably saved the show. Just check out his naturalistic, unfussy style in this scene from Law & Order:

Farina is survived by three sons, six grandchildren, and his wife of 35 years, Marianne Cahill.

Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt | Follow Hollywood.com on Twitter @Hollywood_com

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