Widely considered one of the best actors on television - he's earned a quartet of Best Actor Emmys for his portrayal of NYPD Blue Detective Andy Sipowicz along with an array of Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, and Viewers for Quality Television awards and accolades - barrel-chested actor Dennis Franz has more than made his mark in the entertainment world.
Franz was born Dennis Franz Schlachta in Maywood, Illinois, on October 28, 1944, a first generation German American whose his father was a baker until an allergy to flour forced him to seek other employment.
He first got into acting in high school, when he tried out for a part in a school production of "The Crucible" because his girlfriend was up for a part. He got cast and she didn't. After graduating from Wright Junior College in Chicago, he enlisted in the Army. The 11 months he served in Vietnam with an airborne unit that saw its share of combat seared him; it illuminates why his character Andy Sipowicz is so passionate about veterans of the war.
"I was curious about the military service and went into the Army," Franz told TV Guide. "I regretted my curiosity about two weeks after I was in. I ended up in the 82nd Airborne and the 101st Airborne in Vietnam for 11 months."
Franz admitted that his wartime service "was a very traumatic, life-changing experience… I'm not as frivolous as I once was. I experienced death over there, and losing friends. I got as close to being shot as I care to. I could feel and hear bullets whizzing over my head, and that shakes you up quite a bit. When I came back in the early 1970s, there was still a lot of anti-war feeling. I didn't know how I fit in… I was torn up and angry for a year."
Franz came to the attention of producer Steven Bochco playing rogue cop Sal Benedetto on the hit TV series "Hill Street Blues."
He was so impressive that, after his character was killed off, Bochco brought him back as the sartorially mismatched Lieutenant Norman Buntz, cementing his niche of portraying tough cops. And while he has also enjoyed a modicum of success on the big screen in such movies as "American Buffalo," "Body Double," and "City of Angels," it is his portrayal of the troubled, intense, and gifted Detective Andy Sipowicz on "NYPD Blue" that has capped his career as an actor.
After a brief and unfulfilling stint as a postman, Franz made his acting debut in the play "Cops," starring with fellow Chicago tough-guy actor Joe Mantegna. In 1978 he moved to Los Angeles, where he became a part of the "repertory companies" for directors Robert Altman and Brian DePalma, appearing in "A Perfect Couple" and "Popeye" for Altman, and "Dressed to Kill," "Blow Out," and "Body Double" for DePalma. He made his TV debut as beat cop Joe Gilland in the 1982 TV series "Chicago Story."
Typecast as a cop, he so impressed "Hill Street Blues" producer Steven Bochco in a two-episode guest stint as dirty cop Sal Benedetto in that series' third season that the Benedetto character was brought back for an end of the season arc before being killed off. Three seasons later, Franz turned up alive on "Hill Street" as a regular, a nasty but ultimately moral cop named Norman Buntz. When "Hill Street" was cancelled after its seventh season, co-producer David Milch and Franz spun off the Buntz character in a short-lived "dramedy" called "Beverly Hills Buntz." Bochco then cast Franz as one of the leads in his baseball drama "Bay City Blues," a show that was quickly cancelled.
Franz's career hit a downturn after that. But he bounced back, reteaming with Bochco and Milch to play the volatile Detective Andy Sipowicz on "NYPD Blue," a role which has already earned him six nominations - and an unprecedented four Emmys for the same character - as "Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series." Over the course of its long run - "NYPD Blue" is in its ninth season - Franz has emerged as the heart of the series.
Married in 1995 to longtime companion Joanie Zeck, Franz has used his celebrity for good causes. In May 1999, he hosted the Revlon Run/Walk in Los Angeles, benefiting breast and ovarian cancer research. He is a celebrity spokesperson for RADD (Recording Artists, Actors, and Athletes Against Drunk Driving). He has also hosted "Healing the Hate," a one-hour special which was a part of the "Erase the Hate" series on the USA Network which received the Governor's Award at the Cable Ace Awards in 1996. He is very much interested in wildlife preservation and is a board member of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and a major supporter of Actors and Others for Animals.
Image Credit: http://americanprofile.com/articles/will-dennis-franz-ever-return-to-tv-video/