Lawrence Tierney

Active - 1943 - 2000  |   Born - Mar 15, 1919   |   Died - Feb 26, 2002   |   Genres - Crime, Drama, Comedy, Horror, Thriller

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Biography by Lucia Bozzola

A one-time model with a long rap sheet of less-than-ideal behavior, character actor Lawrence Tierney nevertheless managed to amass scores of film credits over a five-decade acting career before he passed away in 2002. Born in Brooklyn, NY, five years before actor/ brother Scott Brady, Tierney excelled in high school track, winning a scholarship to Manhattan College. Rather than stay in school, however, Tierney dropped out and became an itinerant laborer before his looks brought him a job as a catalogue model. In the early '40s, Tierney began acting in theater and was subsequently signed by RKO. Strengthening his skills with supporting roles in such films as Val Lewton's moody thriller The Ghost Ship (1943) and early teen drama Youth Runs Wild (1944), Tierney sealed his fame, and his image, with his performance as the eponymous gangster in the superb B-picture Dillinger (1945). Cashing in on Dillinger's success, RKO slotted Tierney into numerous tough guy roles, including two turns as archetypal Western outlaw Jesse James in Badman's Territory (1946) and Best of the Badmen (1950), a murderer in cult noir Born to Kill (1947), a sociopath in The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947), and a career criminal in The Hoodlum (1951). His B-movie stardom also garnered Tierney a typically villainous role in Cecil B. De Mille's Oscar-winner The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). Tierney became just as well known in this period, though, for his offscreen exploits involving copious booze and physical violence. Tierney was such a regular in the Los Angeles jail that cops assured fellow RKO star and hell-raiser Robert Mitchum after his famous 1948 drug arrest, "We're keeping Lawrence Tierney's cell warm for ya." By the mid-'50s, Tierney's roles were becoming smaller and scarcer. His professional situation unchanged despite appearing in John Cassavetes' praised mental hospital drama A Child Is Waiting (1963), Tierney moved to Europe but he continued to get in trouble with the law. After he returned to New York in the late '60s, Tierney supported himself with a variety of jobs, including bartending, and maintained his pugnacious, drunken ways; he was stabbed in a brawl in 1973 and questioned in connection with a woman's suicide in 1975. Still, Tierney managed to score the occasional acting gig, appearing in Otto Preminger's Such Good Friends (1971), Andy Warhol's Bad (1977), and the blockbuster comedy Arthur (1981). Dry by 1983, Tierney returned to Hollywood to resurrect his career in earnest, and soon landed regular work on TV as well as in movies. Along with a role on NBC's Hill Street Blues, Tierney also appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation and played a sheriff in the TV movie Dillinger (1991). On film, Tierney was as comfortable in John Sayles' thoughtful drama City of Hope (1991) as in John Huston's esteemed Mafia black comedy Prizzi's Honor (1985) and the tastelessly hilarious The Naked Gun (1988); he drew attention for his vigorous turn as Ryan O'Neal's alcoholic father in Tough Guys Don't Dance (1987). Tierney's most memorable late-career performance, however, was his no-nonsense, dryly funny criminal mastermind Joe Cabot in Quentin Tarantino's heist film Reservoir Dogs (1992). His longevity assured by Dogs, Tierney remained active into the late '90s, appearing in the Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy Junior (1994) and stylish Tarantino rip-off 2 Days in the Valley (1996), as well as playing Joey Buttafuoco's father in the TV yarn Casualties of Love: The "Long Island Lolita" Story (1993). Following the crime drama Southie (1998) and playing hard-nosed oil driller Bruce Willis' gruff father in Armageddon (1998), Tierney's health began to fail. He died in his sleep in February 2002.

Movie Highlights

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