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OFFBEAT: Actor Brian Dennehy still haunted by killer John Wayne Gacy role
A FRIGHTENING SIGHT - - Killer John Wayne Gacy, who was convicted in 1978 of murdering at least 33 young men and burying them in the basement of his suburban Chicago home spent his final years in Stateville Prison in Illinois painting clowns and autographing photos of himself (pictured) to sell to rare curiosity finds for collectors. He was executed by lethal injection in 1996. (Archive Image)

At last Monday's world premiere press opening for "The Long Red Road" at Goodman Theatre in Chicago, actor Brian Dennehy was sitting discreetly in an aisle seat.

An all-around "what you see is what you get" kind of guy, at intermission he mingled in the lobby and chatted with fellow audience members.

Dennehy is a good guy and one of my favorite actors.

My parents also rank him right at the top.

Since January, Dennehy, 71, has been center stage at the Goodman performing in a double-bill of short play classics for a run that ends today.

Happy to be back in Chicago, he's been here to return to the role of a petty, windbag gambler in Eugene O'Neill's "Hughie" opposite mousey actor Joe Grifasi, who plays the famous bored hotel desk clerk for the first half of this artistic offering.

And then, after intermission, Dennehy has been appearing solo in "Krapp's Last Tape," by Samuel Beckett.

But last Monday, he was in the audience to watch the directing talent of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who's directing the fantastic production of "The Long Red Road," which continues through March 21.

By the way, Hoffman was also in the audience at the opening night of Dennehy's dual plays, so I guess one good turn deserves another.

What's most fascinating to me is that whenever Dennehy comes back to Chicago, which is often, and usually at the Goodman to collaborate with the theater's artistic director Robert Falls, he's inevitably asked about his made-for-television 1992 movie role in "To Catch a Killer," when he portrayed Chicago murderer John Wayne Gacy.

During this visit to the Windy City, he had one Chicago female fan simply say to him: "I'll show you a rope trick."

That line actually caught Dennehy a little off guard, and understandably so, since it seemed to come out of the blue.

In fact, I got the feeling he really didn't know what she was talking about.

With some prompting by this gal, it quickly came to him that she was reciting one of Gacy's lines, since this fiend would often perform as his clown alter-ego Pogo at children's parties and perform rope tricks.

Then, in the film starring Dennehy, these rope trick maneuvers were revealed to also serve as one of the ways he would fool his young male victims as a ploy that ultimately led to them being tied up before their assault and murder.

Despite the depravity of all of this, I did find it interesting that Dennehy said he actually heard from Gacy before this man of so many people's nightmares was executed by lethal injection in May 1996 at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Ill.

Gacy, who was convicted of murdering at least 33 young men and burying the bodies in the crawlspace of his Norwood Park, Chicago area home, wrote a short letter to the actor, which read: "Sorry you would participate in this fraud [the film]. You've always been one of my favorite actors. As for the 33 bodies that were discovered, lots of people had access to that crawlspace."

Dennehy said he still has the letter, which his lawyer keeps locked in his office safe.

Gacy, who was convicted in 1978, was 52-years-old when executed.

He spent his final years in prison painting clown pictures and autographing previously shot photos of himself as his clown alter ego Pogo, all items sold as curiosities to oddly fascinated collectors of such morbid memorabilia.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at or 219.852.4327.

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