Dennis Franz Schlachta, more commonly known as just Dennis Franz, grew up in Illinois as the son of German immigrants Eleanor and Franz. Franz's first step into acting was taken in his high school's version of "The Crucible." However, he didn't go back on stage till many years later. Franz later attended college, and after graduating, enlisted in the U.S. Army.
While serving, Franz was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division and served in Vietnam. His unit saw combat, and the experiences he had overseas left a profound mark on him.
"I was curious about the military service and went into the Army," said Franz. "[It] was a very traumatic, life-changing experience… I'm not as frivolous as I once was. I experienced death over there, and losing friends. I got as close to being shot as I care to. I could feel and hear bullets whizzing over my head, and that shakes you up quite a bit."
When Franz returned from the war, he made a living as a postman until he starred in the play "Cops." His career moved forward with roles in "A Perfect Couple," "Dressed to Kill," "Body Double," and more. His first appearance on television came through the role of Detective Sal Benedetto on "Hill Street Blues." He was so well received, that when his character was killed off the producer created a second role for him, Lieutenant Norman Buntz.
Franz's next big break came in "NYPD Blue" with the role of Detective Andy Sipowicz. Due in part to Franz's appearance, he was typecast early on as a tough cop character. According to Franz himself, Andy Sipowicz was his 27th cop role. His success on "NYPD Blue" highlighted his entire career. He was nominated six times and won four Emmys for "Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series."
When the series concluded, Franz expressed heartfelt, strong feelings about leaving."I am not interested in considering another TV series. This one was a wonderful experience which will be hard to top, and It's caused me to turn down several good film opportunities because of the schedule."
Since the conclusion of "NYPD Blue," Franz has largely stepped away from the spotlight. Aside from enjoying retirement, he's been active in promoting numerous causes such as breast and ovarian cancer research, RADD (Recording Artists, Actors, and Athletes Against Drunk Driving), wildlife preservation, and more.