Chris Penn was a well known actor, belonging to a family whose roots were set in the production of movies. Although his life ended before his time, Penn racked up an impressive number of performances in his career, in films now treasured as classics.
Born on October 10, 1965 in Los Angeles, California, Penn's parents both worked in film. His father Leo Penn was an actor-turned-director, and his mother Eileen Ryan was an actress. The youngest of three brothers, (the other two being Michael Penn and Sean Penn) Penn set out to follow in his parents' footsteps. He started acting at age 12 in the Loft Studio. While in high school, he and his brother Sean made several shorts with their classmates, which included such would-be stars as Emilio Estevez and Rob Lowe. Penn made his onscreen debut in the Christopher Cain movie, Charlie and the Talking Buzzard (1979). After a few years, Penn caught the eye of acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola, who cast him in a supporting role in the teen drama Rumble Fish (1983). Although the film was a flop critically and commercially, Penn's career was well under way.
That same year, he acted in All the Right Moves (1983), a high school drama film starring a young Tom Cruise. The next year, Penn gave a performance in Footloose (1984), starring Kevin Bacon and dealing with a small town which bans rock & roll music. The movie was a smash hit, and remains a classic to this day. Penn followed this up with a villainous role in Clint Eastwood's Pale Rider (1985), and the crime movie At Close Range (1986), starring Christopher Walken.
Penn acted in a few smaller productions until he was cast as Travis Brickley in the sports drama Best of the Best (1989). Penn's character is a martial arts fighter who joins the other main characters when they enter a taekwondo tournament against the Korean team. The movie spawned several sequels, though Penn only appeared in the first and second films. A few more jobs followed, until Penn landed what is known as his most famous movie: Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992). The indie crime film concerned a heist gone wrong, as the criminals search for a rat in their midst. Penn played the role of Nice Guy Eddie, the son of the old gangster that arranges the heist. The film continues to receive acclaim as a classic movie, and started Tarantino's directing career. Penn also acted in the Tarantino-scripted Tony Scott crime movie True Romance (1993), albeit in a much smaller role. Penn also took a supporting role in the ensemble film Short Cuts (1993) by Robert Altman.
After participating in these acclaimed films, Penn took on several smaller projects, including a role as the villain in the second "Beethoven" movie. In this period of time, Penn acted in such films as the crime film Mulholland Falls (1996), set in the 1950s. Penn then gave one of his greatest performances in the Abel Ferrara crime drama The Funeral (1996). The movie starred Christopher Walken, Penn, and Vincent Gallo as three brothers who are involved in the world of crime, even as it threatens to take them all down. Penn plays Chez, the middle brother, who has a very short temper. Penn also sang a song in the film as his character. While the film was well received critically, and Penn received an award for Best Supporting Actor at the Venice Film Festival for his excellent performance, The Funeral (1996) went largely unseen. Penn followed up with the Canadian film The Boys Club (1997), the crime thriller One Tough Cop (1998), and a supporting role in the hit comedy Rush Hour (1998).
Following his latest success, Penn acted in the drama-comedy The Florentine (1999), the English comedy Kiss Kiss (Bang Bang) (2001), and the crime thriller Murder by Numbers (2002). Penn was also one of the many stars that acted in the box office failure Masked and Anonymous (2003), starring Bob Dylan. The last few years of his career mainly featured supporting roles in such movies as After the Sunset (2004), Starsky & Hutch (2004), and the Canadian crime film King of Sorrow (2007), his last film appearance. Throughout his life, Penn had had battles with heart disease and multiple drug use. He was found dead in his home on January 24, 2006. He was only forty years old.
Penn left behind a career that featured many roles in small, independent productions as well as several very well known films. Penn had worked with several esteemed directors and fellow actors, lending his talent to both television and film. Although he never received nearly as much attention or awards as his brother Sean, Chris Penn will always be remembered by those who watch movies and appreciate his work.
Often played violent criminals with short fuses (examples include 'Nice Guy' Eddie in Reservoir Dogs (1992), Chez in The Funeral (1996), David Loach in Stealing Harvard (2002), Peter Romano in Corky Romano (2001), and Clive in Rush Hour (1998)) or law enforcement officials (such as Detective Phillip Braxton in Deceiver (1997), Sheriff Dolard in To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995), FBI Agent Jason Enola in Papertrail (1998), and Manetti in Starsky & Hutch (2004))
Gravelly smoke burnished voice
Started acting at age 12 at the Loft Studio in Los Angeles and training under acting guru Peggy Feury.
Had a black belt in karate.
Burial at Holy Cross Cemetery, 5835 Slauson Ave., Culver City, California (Los Angeles County). Section CC Tier 54 near father Leo Penn's site.
In attendance at his funeral were Robin Wright, Sean Penn, Mark Ruffalo, Adrian Pasdar, Jack Nicholson, James Gandolfini, Charlie Sheen, Tim Robbins, Tom Sizemore, Robert Downey Jr. and Michael Madsen.
Drank only Bookers bourbon. Liked to drink in the afternoon at burlesque great Betty Rowland's 217 bar in Santa Monica, California.
Former brother-in-law of Madonna.
Had been slated to play the part of Danno Hanks in the WB series "Vermin & Pestilence" before the project was canceled when AOL/Time Warner stock tanked.
At the time of his death, he lived in condo #104 at 1033 Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, California.
You have to believe that you are the character or the thing or whatever the hell you're playing.
They offer me a lot more money to do something that was successful before than to take a risk. More power to the people who get to choose their roles. I don't.
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