Eileen Brennan, an enduringly popular character actress who created the role of Irene Molloy in Hello, Dolly!, died on July 28 at her home in Burbank, CA, of bladder cancer. She was 80 years old.
Daughter of silent film actress Regina Manahan, Verla Eileen Regina Brennan was born in Los Angeles and attended Georgetown University and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She won Theatre World and Obie Awards for her 1959 theatrical debut in Little Mary Sunshine. On Broadway, she appeared in the short-lived 1962 musical The Student Gypsy before playing hat shop owner Irene Molloy alongside Carol Channing in the 1964 premiere production of Hello, Dolly! Brennan toured as Anne Sullivan in The Miracle Worker and Anna in The King and I and played Miss Hannigan in a summer stock production of Annie (in which she reportedly suffered a broken leg after falling from the stage).
An Oscar nominee for her performance as a drill captain in the 1980 comedy Private Benjamin, Brennan was known for her big-screen roles in The Sting, The Last Picture Show, Murder By Death, Clue, The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking, Stella and many more. She reprised her Private Benjamin role in a TV adaptation, winning an Emmy Award. Additional Emmy nominations came for guest-starring roles in Taxi, Newhart, Thirtysomething and Will & Grace (as Zandra).
Brennan is survived by two sons, actor Patrick Brennan and musician Sam Lampson, and two grandchildren.