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Wednesday, January 25, 2006 - Page updated at 03:09 PM

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Actor Chris Penn, 40, found dead at home

Los Angeles Times

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Actor Chris Penn, 40, was found dead Tuesday in his condominium here, officials said. Authorities are investigating the cause of his death but said they do not suspect foul play.

Penn, the younger brother of actor Sean Penn, specialized in working-class, regular-guy characters, and had roles in a long list of movies and television programs during a career that spanned more than two decades.

Santa Monica police were called by a housekeeper in Penn's first-floor unit just after 4 p.m. Tuesday and arrived to find the actor's body in his bed, authorities said. Lt. Frank Fabrega of the Santa Monica Police Department said officers were conducting a death investigation but have no evidence of homicide.

Coroner's officials will seek to determine the cause of death and will conduct toxicology tests, Fabrega said. But asked late Tuesday whether Penn's death appeared to be the result of anything other than natural causes, coroner's spokesman Ed Winter said: "Not at this time."

Though less well-known than Sean, the younger Penn won praise for a series of supporting roles in major films, including "Footloose" and "Reservoir Dogs."

Possessed of a hefty build, protruding chin and slightly pouting lips, Chris Penn looked the part of the ordinary guy or small-time crook, though he had played cops as well.

Penn began his career as a child performer in the 1970s and moved on to films such as "Rumble Fish" and "All the Right Moves." He played the role of an awkward teenager who says he can't dance in "Footloose," and starred in one of that movie's most memorable scenes, when Kevin Bacon ultimately teaches him some moves.

Chris Penn film highlights


Murder by Numbers (2002)

One Tough Cop (1998)

The Funeral (1996)

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995)

Beethoven's 2nd (1993)

Short Cuts (1993)

True Romance (1993)

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

At Close Range (with brother Sean Penn) (1986)

Pale Rider (1985)

The Wild Life (1984)

All the Right Moves (1983)

Rumble Fish (1983)

Perhaps his best-known role, however, was as "Nice Guy Eddie" in the 1992 film "Reservoir Dogs." The character he brought to life — both disturbing and humorous — caught critics' attention. After that, Penn, who grew heavier through the years, played a series of sidekick roles, including in such recent movies as "Starsky & Hutch" and "Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang."

He was destined never to approach his brother's fame nor win anything like Sean Penn's critical acclaim, and in later years, especially, seemed to have settled into a steady, journeyman actor's career of modest distinction.

But throughout his work, critics marked striking moments in his performances and often called him underrated. "Just as talented as Sean — just a lot less cocky," Slate magazine critic Cintra Wilson wrote of him last year. He could play humiliation and vulnerability especially well, she wrote, and "makes you seamlessly believe in characters so much you barely even notice them."

A bar on New York's Lower East Side called Nice Guy Eddie's was named for his performance in "Reservoir Dogs." Owner David McWater, an acquaintance of the actor, said Penn attended the opening, easily mingling with bar patrons.

"He was real nice ... approachable, just one of the guys. He wasn't standoffish, not trying to be star," McWater said, adding: "I always thought he was underrated. When he wanted to be, he was a really good actor. He was great in 'True Romance.' ... He was so believable as the aggressive detective who just wants a lot of collars."

Born Christopher Penn in 1965, he was the son of Eileen Ryan and the late Leo Penn. Another brother, Michael, is a prominent musician.

Los Angeles Times reporter Richard Winton contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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