Barry Dennen, a show business legend known for his theater work, voice acting, and role in the New York cabaret scene of the 1960s, died Tuesday after a fall that caused a brain injury, according to multiple reports. He was 79.
Dennen's career in film and television spans five decades and includes everything from major roles in movie musicals to additional voice work for animated TV series, but it really began to take off in New York. A Chicago native who later moved to Los Angeles and graduated from UCLA, Dennen arrived in New York City after college and began a relationship with a then-unknown Barbra Streisand. Even if he'd never made a mark in show business, he would be remembered for helping her develop the original nightclub act that eventually led to her breakthrough as a star. Then he moved to London.
In 1970, he was invited by Andrew Lloyd Webber to sing the role of Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar, which was then just a concept album. It was the role that would make him a legend. Dennen went on to play Pilate again in the 1971 Broadway production of Superstar, then reprised the role for the 1973 film version (I can't speak to the stage version, but he's amazing in both the album and the film). He also had a key role in another iconic movie musical, playing Mendel in Fiddler on the Roof in 1971.
To genre fans, he is perhaps most easily recognized as Bill Watson, an Overlook Hotel employee from Stanley Kubrick's horror masterpiece The Shining. It's a relatively small role, but the eerie way in which the character mirrors Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is key to the unsettling atmosphere Kubrick establishes early on in the film. Other notable live-action genre roles included two episode of the Batman TV series, Madhouse, and Monster Squad (the TV series, not the film), not to mention a single episode of Wonder Woman, in which he played Hitler.
Even if you don't recognize Dennen's face, though, you almost certainly know his voice, because he developed a prolific voiceover career throughout his life in films, animated series, and video games. Among his credits: The Dark Crystal (as Chamberlain), DuckTales (as Morloon the Lizard), Batman: The Animated Series (as Shadow Agent), Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance (as Fatman), Star Wars: The Clone Wars (as Ramsis Dendup), Lego Marvel Super Heroes: Maximum Overload (as the Mandarin), and various voices on everything from Dragon Age: Origins to Johnny Quest.
For genre fans, Dennen is a kind of journeyman actor, never rising to superstardom but also working constantly for decades. He may not necessarily have been an icon in the field, but without his work, the world would no doubt be lacking something.