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Dabney Coleman, Of “9 to 5” And “Tootsie” Fame, Dies At Age 92

Dabney Coleman, the mustachioed character actor who specialized in smarmy villains like the chauvinist boss in “9 to 5” and the nasty TV director in “Tootsie,” has died. He was 92.  Coleman died Thursday at his home in Santa Monica, his daughter, Quincy Coleman, said in a statement to The Associated Press. She said he “took his last earthly breath peacefully and exquisitely.”

“The great Dabney Coleman literally created, or defined, really — in a uniquely singular way — an archetype as a character actor. He was so good at what he did it’s hard to imagine movies and television of the last 40 years without him,” Ben Stiller wrote on X.

For two decades Coleman labored in movies and TV shows as a talented but largely unnoticed performer. That changed abruptly in 1976 when he was cast as the incorrigibly corrupt mayor of the hamlet of Fernwood in “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” a satirical soap opera that was so over the top no network would touch it. Producer Norman Lear finally managed to syndicate the show, which starred Louise Lasser in the title role. It quickly became a cult favorite. Coleman’s character, Mayor Merle Jeeter, was especially popular and his masterful, comic deadpan delivery did not go overlooked by film and network executives.

A six-footer with an ample black mustache, Coleman went on to make his mark in numerous popular films, including as a stressed out computer scientist in “War Games,” Tom Hanks’ father in “You’ve Got Mail” and a fire fighting official in “The Towering Inferno.”

He won a Golden Globe for “The Slap Maxwell Story” and an Emmy Award for best supporting actor in Peter Levin’s 1987 small screen legal drama “Sworn to Silence.” Some of his recent credits include “Ray Donovan” and a recurring role on “Boardwalk Empire,” for which he won two Screen Actors Guild Awards.

In the groundbreaking 1980 hit “9 to 5,” he was the “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss who tormented his unappreciated female underlings — Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton — until they turned the tables on him.

In 1981, he was Fonda’s caring, well-mannered boyfriend, who asks her father (played by her real-life father, Henry Fonda) if he can sleep with her during a visit to her parents’ vacation home in “On Golden Pond.”  Opposite Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie,” he was the obnoxious director of a daytime soap opera that Hoffman’s character joins by pretending to be a woman. Among Coleman’s other films were “North Dallas Forty,” “Cloak and Dagger,” “Dragnet,” “Meet the Applegates,” “Inspector Gadget” and “Stuart Little.” He reunited with Hoffman as a land developer in Brad Silberling‘s “Moonlight Mile” with Jake Gyllenhaal.

Early credits included such TV shows as “Ben Casey,” “Dr Kildare,” “The Outer Limits,” “Bonanza,” “The Mod Squad” and the film “The Towering Inferno.” He appeared on Broadway in 1961 in “A Call on Kuprin.” He played Kevin Costner‘s father on “Yellowstone.”

Twice divorced, Coleman is survived by four children, Meghan, Kelly, Randy and Quincy, and the grandchildren Hale and Gabe Torrance, Luie Freundl and Kai and Coleman Biancaniello.

“My father crafted his time here on earth with a curious mind, a generous heart, and a soul on fire with passion, desire and humor that tickled the funny bone of humanity,” Quincy Coleman wrote in his honor.

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