Wednesday 18 July 2018

The tragic closing act of Hollywood hero Glenn Quinn

Irish actor played Becky's boyfriend in original series of Roseanne

Glenn Quinn and Sarah Chalke starred as Mark and Becky in 'Roseanne'
Glenn Quinn and Sarah Chalke starred as Mark and Becky in 'Roseanne'
Ciaran with his sisters Sonya and Louisa
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

At his home in Donabate in Dublin Ciaran McQualie Quinn sat down at his computer, took a deep breath, and typed in the words 'Glenn died'. In under a second the screen was filled with images of a handsome young actor called Glenn Quinn, presumably - from the results - the most famous Glenn who had ever died.

There he was kissing Gwyneth Paltrow, hanging with John Travolta, laughing with Roseanne Barr. There he was on the set of Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There were fan sites, online tributes, pictures of billboards emblazoned with his million dollar smile. And there, in black and white, was the young actor's obituary. He had died a few years previously in Los Angeles and was survived, so the article said, "by his mother Bernadette, his sisters Louisa and Sonya and his father Murty".

Bernadette had another son, however. Ciaran McQuaile Quinn had been adopted as a child and was on a quest to find his birth family. He had spent years gathering little fragments of information and he knew who his father was. He also knew that his mother's name had been Bernadette. But he did not know about his sisters. And he had no idea that he had a famous brother, who he had never met and now never would meet.

At the Adoption Authority he had cajoled an employee into giving him a little clue, which lead to the fateful internet search. "She just told me that I had a brother called Glenn, but that he died," Ciaran said. "That was why I typed those words in. I had no idea I was related to him but when I read the obituary I began putting the pieces of the jigsaw together.

Ciaran with his sisters Sonya and Louisa
Ciaran with his sisters Sonya and Louisa

"I rang my sister Deirdre and told her. She called him Mark, which was the name of one of Glenn's characters, and said she had no idea he was Irish. She asked me how he died. I started telling her some of the other things he had been in. She repeated the question 'how did he die?'"

That question would echo around the world in 2002, the year Glenn Quinn's short life ended. A whole generation of Irish kids had grown up watching him play the dim-yet-handsome boyfriend of Becky, Roseanne's daughter, on Roseanne. In the late 1980s it had become the most-watched programme of all on US television. It was syndicated around the world and hailed for its groundbreaking depiction of working class America and family strife.

It made an icon of Roseanne but also launched the careers of writers like Judd Apatow. Glenn had been written into the series to elope with Roseanne's screen daughter Becky, but his popularity led to him being given a more recurrent role.

"If Glenn hadn't got that role it would've been a fleeting character," Michael Fishman, who played DJ, the little boy on the show, told the Sunday Independent. "Instead he subtly added heart, kindness and toughness that was unique Quinny."

Fishman said that he never really thought of Glenn as Irish and, at a time when a brogue wasn't necessarily a calling card in Tinseltown, the young actor never really promoted the fact that he was. Yet he was born in Dublin and grew up in Cabinteely in what he once described as a "humble" background. That hardly told the whole story however.

Glenn's father was the famous musician Murty Quinn of the Miami Showband, which had seven number one hits in Ireland during the 1960s and 1970s. Dickie Rock became the lead vocalist for the group and would go on to represent Ireland in Eurovision, while still playing with the showband. In 1967, despite their great success, the group broke up, with Murty and three of the other members leaving to form the Sands.

The group of men that remained part of The Miami Showband would go on to be associated forever with a infamous attack during The Troubles. In 1975, on a lonely country road outside Newry, the band were making their way home to Dublin from a gig at the Castle Ballroom in Banbridge, Co. Down when they were flagged down by men in military dress.

The band presumed that the men who stopped them were British Army but in fact they were members of the UVF, who tried to plant a bomb in the van carrying the band. It detonated prematurely and in the melee that followed the paramilitaries opened fire on the entertainers, killing three of them.

The killings shocked the country and forever tarnished the innocence of the showband era.

A decade previously Murty Quinn had been living in Dublin and in a relationship with Bernadette Brady. Murty and Bernadette went on to marry and had three children within wedlock - Louisa, Sonya and Glenn, who was born in 1970.

Glenn was educated at Clonkeen College where former classmates described him as "a fun, intelligent guy" and a "practical joker". By his teens it was apparent that Glenn had inherited his father's musicality. He played drums in a band and dreamed of being a popstar. In the 1980s his world would shift on its axis.

Bernadette and Murty's marriage was troubled and they eventually split. Bernadette moved to America in 1988 and she and the three children lived in Los Angeles because of family connections in the area.

Glenn, by now in his late teens, did a variety of odd jobs to support himself, including time working as a waiter and on a building site. By chance he happened to have a cousin who worked in the film industry, on sets.

"David (the cousin) used to work with Dreamworks too and he was a cameraman on Jurassic Park," said Ciaran McQuaile Quinn. "Glenn used to go and visit him and went to several sets where David would be working. Glenn looked and said 'I can do that'. So he told my mother he was moving to Hollywood. He started out doing Pepsi ads and Brylcreem ads. He was quite a handsome kid."

Glenn began doing auditions and won a part in the Richard Marx video Satisfied (in 1989 Marx had one of the top-selling songs in the world with Right Here Waiting).

His first speaking part came in the pilot episode of Beverly Hills 90210. According to reports from the time, Quinn endured eight auditions for the lead male roles but ended up losing out to Jason Priestly and Ian Ziering, who would both go on to become teen pin-ups in their own right.

Glenn had a slightly more substantial appearance in the Outsiders, which co-starred David Arquette. In 1991 the Dubliner had his first major role in the film Shout, which also starred Hollywood superstar John Travolta.

The film marked the big screen debut of another budding starlet who would go on to great things, Gwyneth Paltrow. The two young actors would share an on-screen kiss and according to Ciaran it went further than that. "A number of his friends told me that he was knocking around with her and they were young and impressionable and anything went," he said.

It was the role of Mark on Roseanne that really made Glenn's name however. "Mark was a harder character to play than people realise. The bad boy, undesirable boyfriend. Teased as not bright but strong, dedicated and honest," Michael Fishman said.

Glenn never spoke about his famous father at work but during several seasons of the show he took to the stage alongside John Goodman (who played Roseanne's husband, Dan) and the pair would jam for the studio audience.

At the same time as he was acting on Roseanne, Glenn took a role on the ill-fated British TV series Covington Cross, which meant he had to commute from the UK to the US to balance it with his duties on Roseanne. He had always been proud of doing his own stunts but during filming for Covington Cross he fell off a horse, injuring his back.

In the late 1990s he made the transition from Roseanne to Angel, the big budget David Boreanis vehicle, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off, which tapped into teenager vampire mania a generation before the Twilight series. The series seemed to represent a chance for him to jump-start his career, but he would arrive with some baggage.

Reports from the period claim that by this time he had addictions to alcohol and cocaine and on the set he was reported to be confrontational.

"On Roseanne Glenn was a professional," Fishman said. "Any struggles he had started while working on Angel."

In these years, according to his brother, the upheaval in the family and the breakdown of his parents' relationship all weighed heavily on the young actor.

"He came home to Ireland in 1997 and from what I know that trip did not go well and he was kind of knocked for six by it," his sister Sonya told me by email. "It was at this time that Glenn's struggles took over. We as a family were very supportive in helping him. Though there were periods of sobriety, ultimately it consumed him."

On Angel, playing the character of Doyle he was allowed, for the first time, to use his Irish accent, giving his many fans around the world the first indication of his heritage (he had an Erin go Bragh tattoo on his left shoulder and a harp on his right but these were never seen on camera).

When the character was killed off, fans campaigned online to bring him back.

Quinn used his television money to buy a part share in an LA nightclub called Goldfinger. However, his partners in the club soon bought him out and there were contemporaneous reports that he was begging money from customers and staff and getting into fights.

"I talked to his buddies from that time," Ciaran told the Sunday Independent. "They were very good at filling me in on the kind of guy he was. One of his ex-managers contacted me. Glenn had been kind of clean. He'd been in rehab. He stayed with my mum and looked after her and he'd been very good. But he still had his demons."

Unfortunately these came more and more to the fore. In December 2002 Glenn was asked to leave a Miami rehab centre, for using drugs.

Later that week he appeared at the apartment of his friend Dwayne Higgins in North Hollywood, asking if he could stay for a while. Higgins went to bed at around 9pm on the night of December 3, with Glenn resting on the couch.

The next morning, when Higgins looked at Glenn, he thought he was sleeping, so he went out. When he got back he went to wake Glenn up but got no response. Panicked he immediately called emergency services, but it would be too late. Glenn was just 32 when he died.

Police would later find syringes amongst his possessions. Autopsy reports would later record the cause of his death as an accidental heroin overdose.

One of the American obituaries of the actor finished with the observation that "in the end, his Irish luck ran out". The press swarmed at the funeral, which was attended by most of the cast of Roseanne.

"It's difficult to imagine the pain that news caused for my mother and sisters," Ciaran said. "To lose a son and brother is the worst thing anyone could go through. I wish I could have been there for them then."

"I was shocked and devastated when Glenn passed away," Michael Fishman said. "You have to understand Glenn was like a spotlight of a man, he could cut through the darkest moment and light things up."

Fishman set up a memorial fund in Glenn's name and even today there are dozens of online tributes to the actor. He had arguably been the most successful Irish actor of his generation - a little older than Colin Farrell and younger than Daniel Day- Lewis and Brendan Gleeson.

Glenn's mother never remarried and she still lives in the US. She travelled back to Ireland this past summer and stayed with Ciaran. Glenn was buried in the City of Angels, but there are still important mementos of him in Dublin.

"I have his drum-set believe it or not," Ciaran said. "I wear his Claddagh ring. [Bernadette] has given me as much as she possibly can. I never had any issues. I just would have loved to have gotten to know him."

Latest Roseanne episode paid tribute to late Irish actor Glenn Quinn who starred in original

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