Character actor Dabney Coleman gained a reputation as "the king of TV curmudgeons" according to a 1991 profile in The Times. Born to Melvin Randolph Coleman and Mary Wharton, Coleman was the youngest of four children and was raised by his mother after his father died of pneumonia when Dabney was just 4 years old. Coleman began his career in the military, studying at the Virginia Military Institute and serving in the U.S. Army in Europe in 1953, where he played tennis for Uncle Sam for two years.
He continued his studies at the University of Texas where he studied law and met his first wife, Ann Harrell. Through her, he met actor Zachary Scott, who inspired Coleman to drop out of college and pursue acting. Coleman and Harrell married in 1957 and divorced in 1959.
Coleman and his second wife, Jean Hale, married in 1961. They traveled to L.A. where Coleman began regularly appearing in TV shows, including "Naked City" and "The Outer Limits."
Coleman’s career got a boost in the 1970s when he had notable roles on "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" and in the feature films "Downhill Racer" and "The Towering Inferno." But in 1980, he got the part of the villainous boss in the comedy "9 to 5" and his career as a humorous cad took off.
He played similar roles in "Modern Problems" and "Tootsie" and took on more serious roles in "On Golden Pond" and "Cloak and Dagger."
On TV, he starred in the acclaimed but short-lived series "Buffalo Bill" and "The Slap Maxwell Story," the latter of which earned him a Golden Globe.
He was nominated for six Emmys but won only once, in 1987 for the TV movie "Sworn to Silence."
Hale and Coleman had four children together and were divorced in 1984.
Coleman took a role in the comedy series "Drexell’s Class" in 1991 in order to give his feature career a boost. At the time, he told The Times he was seeking to work with more substantial filmmakers, such as Martin Scorsese. He got his wish in 2010 when he appeared in the first two seasons of HBO’s "Boardwalk Empire," which was executive produced by Scorsese.
Patrick Kevin Day for the Los Angeles Times