Dabney Coleman, “9 to 5” and “Tootsie” actor, dies at 92

Veteran Hollywood actor Dabney Coleman, known for his iconic roles as the obnoxious boss in “9 to 5” and the detestable TV director in “Tootsie,” has passed away at age 92.

Coleman’s peaceful passing occurred at his residence in Santa Monica on Thursday, as confirmed by Quincy Coleman, his daughter, to CBS News. She revealed that his last moments, at 1:50 p.m. local time, were serene and surrounded by loved ones.

Quincy fondly remembered her father, describing him as a man who shaped his journey with an inquisitive nature, altruistic spirit, and a zestful passion and humor that resonated with people everywhere.

Dabney Coleman spent years in movies and television, gaining little notice until his break in 1976 as the corrupt Mayor Merle Jeeter in “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” This show, produced by Norman Lear, became a beloved cult hit and was syndicated due to its edgy content.

Ben Stiller paid homage to Coleman’s unmatched ability to carve out a distinctive niche as a character actor, recognizing him as an essential figure in entertainment over the past four decades.

Portrait of Actor Dabney Coleman
Actor Dabney Coleman poses for a portrait in New York City on April 26, 1990.

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Standing six feet tall and sporting a striking mustache, Coleman became a memorable presence in many films, such as the stressed scientist in “War Games,” the father of Tom Hanks’ character in “You’ve Got Mail,” and a fire chief in “The Towering Inferno.”

Coleman’s exceptional work in “The Slap Maxwell Story” earned him a Golden Globe, and his performance in “Sworn to Silence” garnered him an Emmy for outstanding supporting actor. Among his later works were appearances on “Ray Donovan” and a recurring part on “Boardwalk Empire,” for which he was awarded two Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Dabney Coleman Honored With Star On The Hollywood Walk Of Fame
Actor Dabney Coleman is honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame on November 6, 2014, in Hollywood, California.

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His unforgettable performance as the detestable boss in the groundbreaking “9 to 5” film earned him widespread acclaim, playing opposite talents such as Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton. Moreover, he portrayed a sympathetic boyfriend to Fonda in “On Golden Pond” and an exasperating director in “Tootsie” with Dustin Hoffman. Coleman’s filmography also includes “North Dallas Forty,” “Cloak and Dagger,” “Dragnet,” and family favorites like “Inspector Gadget” and “Stuart Little.” He later played alongside Hoffman again in “Moonlight Mile” with Jake Gyllenhaal.

Dabney Coleman in Buffalo Bill series
The cast of the 1983-84 television series “Buffalo Bill,” starring Dabney Coleman as Bill Bittinger.

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While Coleman’s antagonistic personae often shined on the big screen, their transition to television was met with mixed success, as several of his comedy series struggled to gain traction with larger audiences. “Buffalo Bill,” where he played the unpleasant talk show host, and “The Slap Maxwell Story,” depicting a down-and-out sportswriter, are prime examples. Although critically appreciated, sustaining viewer interest proved challenging with his character’s reprehensible traits. While “Apple Pie,” “Drexell’s Class,” and “Madman of the People” were short-lived, he found more success in the legal drama “The Guardian” and as the voice of Principal Prickly in the animated series “Recess.”

From 1997 to 2003, Dabney Coleman graced screens and left an indelible impression.

The 4th Annual Family Television Awards - Show
Dabney Coleman claims a prize for his role in the acclaimed series, “The Guardian”

Michael Caulfield Archive via Getty Images

Beneath his confident demeanor, Coleman was rather introverted. Despite his outgoing roles, he shared with The Associated Press in 1984 that his shyness might have roots in his upbringing as the youngest of four children, the loss of his father at a young age, and his petite stature. Immersing himself in imagination, he found solace in creating his own worlds.

As his career progressed, he became renowned for playing authoritarian figures with a comedic twist, like in the 1998 comedy “My Date With the President’s Daughter,” where he portrayed an oblivious father and an arrogant U.S. President.

Jack Gilford, Rue McClanahan, Dabney Coleman Promotional Photo For 'Apple Pie'
Promotional image featuring (L-R) Jack Gilford, Rue McClanahan, and Dabney Coleman for the TV show ‘Apple Pie’.

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Born in Austin, Texas, in 1932, Dabney Coleman’s journey to acting was unconventional. After attending Virginia Military Academy and the University of Texas, then serving two years in the Army, he was inspired by actor Zachry Scott to pursue acting—an epiphany that led him to abandon law school and head to New York. He relayed this pivotal change to The AP in 1984.

Coleman’s early work included appearances on popular TV series like “Ben Casey,” “The Outer Limits,” “Bonanza,” and “The Mod Squad.” His Broadway debut came in 1961 with “A Call on Kuprin,” and more recently, he appeared as Kevin Costner’s on-screen father in “Yellowstone.”

Following two divorces, Coleman is remembered by his sister Beverly Coleman McCall, his four children Meghan, Kelly, Randy, and Quincy, and five grandchildren.

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