Denis Leary Biography

Television Actor, Actor, Film Actor (1957–)
Denis Leary is a comedian and actor who has become as well known for his TV drama Rescue Me as for any comedy he's done.


Denis Leary's short comedy spots on MTV made him famous, and he followed these with success in films such as The Ref, True Crime and the animated Ice Age. Leary's TV drama, Rescue Me, which he created, produces, and stars in, brought him acclaim in the drama realm, and his Fund for New York's Bravest is an inspirational charity that helps the families of firefighters who died on 9/11.

Early Life

Comedian, actor, writer and producer was born on August 18, 1957, in Worcester, Massachusetts. After becoming popular as a fast-talking, sarcastic comedian in the 1990s, Denis Leary has demonstrated his ability to be a dramatic performer and creative force behind the camera. Born into a blue-collar Irish family, he did not consider an acting career until a teacher persuaded him to perform in a school production. Leary later attended Emerson College and was one of the founders of the Emerson Comedy Workshop. After graduation, he briefly taught acting and screenwriting at the school. All the while, Leary continued to develop his comic talents, doing stand-up at the local comedy clubs.

After a few years in New York City, Leary traveled to London to appear on a television show in 1990. Traveling with him was his pregnant wife Ann. Unfortunately, during their stay, her water broke and their son Jack was born prematurely. Because of their son's health crisis, they had to remain in the country for several months. Despite of his difficult family situation, Leary was able to write his first one-man show, No Cure for Cancer.

It seemed that nothing was off-limits for Leary in No Cure for Cancer. Along with the title subject, he ranted about everything from war to the muppets. His sharp, funny observations—delivered in an angry, rapid-fire style and accompanying cigarettes and obscenities—made him a huge hit with audiences. They also enjoyed the show's humorous songs. After the show debuted at the Edinburgh International Arts Festival in 1990, Leary performed it in London and in New York City, earning strong reviews. The show later aired on the Showtime cable network as a comedy special.

Comic Style

But it was Leary's short comedy spots on the MTV cable network that made him nationally known. These clips featured him launching into a quick verbal assault on popular figures, such as the rock group R.E.M., and other topics, including racism. And usually, Leary delivered these clever quips while holding his trademark cigarette. Concerned about typecasting, he took a leading role in The Ref (1994). In the film, he played a burglar who takes a bickering married couple hostage, gets ensnared in their family squabbles and ends up acting as a peacemaker for the dysfunctional family.

While some of his film choices seem questionable, such as the box office bomb Operation Dumbo Drop (1995), he has given strong performances in several movies. Wag the Dog (1997) gave him the chance to work two legendary performers, including Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman. That same year, Leary gave fans another taste of his dark, gritty humor with his cable comedy special Lock 'N Load.

Returning to films, True Crime (1999) put him on screen with famed actor-director Clint Eastwood. But perhaps his greatest box office success has been as the voice of a sabertooth tiger named Diego in Ice Age (2002) and its sequel Ice Age 2: The Meltdown (2006).

On the Small Screen

Recently, Leary has been making a splash on the small screen with the hit cable series, Rescue Me. Although his earlier attempt at starring in a television series, The Job, did not last long, his second effort struck a cord with viewers and critics alike. Rescue Me, which debuted in 2004, follows the life and work of a crew of firefighters in uptown Manhattan after the September 11th tragedy.

Leary plays Tommy Gavin, a firefighter haunted by the death of his cousin and plagued many personal problems. He understands his character's loss all too well, having lost his own cousin and a childhood friend in a 1999 blaze in Worcester, Massachusetts. While the show has comic elements, it is grounded in the gritty reality of the dangers and hazards firefighters must face. In addition to being its star, Leary is also an executive producer and writer for the series. He has been nominated for three Emmy Awards—for Outstanding Actor in Drama Series in 2006 and in 2007 and for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series in 2005 along with friend and frequent collaborator Peter Tolan.

Rescue Me is just one of the many projects Leary has done through the production company, Apostle, which he co-founded with Jim Serpico in 1994. Their company has a series called Canterbury's Law, which has been picked up by the Fox television network. In 2007, Variety reported that Apostle signed a three-year deal with Sony. Apostle plans on producing between eight to 10 projects per year. The company also produces the annual fund-raising event for the Cam Neely Foundation, Comics Come Home. The stand-up comedy benefit has been broadcast on Comedy Central and has featured the likes of Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, Jon Stewart, and many others over the years.

Charity and Personal Life

In addition to supporting the Cam Neely Foundation, Leary has established his own organization to help others. After the death of his cousin and his friend in 1999, he established the Leary Firefighters Foundation, which has supported the families of the firefighters that died in that blaze—known as the "Worcester 6"—and supplied new equipment for that fire department as well as many other departments. To raise money, Leary hosts an annual ice hockey event that pits celebrities against legendary hockey stars.

After the September 11th tragedy, the foundation created the Fund for New York's Bravest to help the families of firefighters who died in the line of duty that day. The fund also provided money and support for equipment and training before it closed in 2003.

Leary lives in Connecticut with his wife and their two children, Jack and Devin.

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