Obituary: Michael Dennison / Movie costume designer nominated for Emmy Award

March 21, 1952 - Sept. 2, 2010


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While Michael Dennison hopscotched around the world as the costume designer for movies such as "Eat, Pray, Love" and "The Book of Eli," his family back home in Texas would joke that if he could have been in two places at once, he would have been.

Mr. Dennison, 58, died in Pittsburgh on Sept. 2 following a brain aneurysm, but his family takes solace in the fact that he is now quite literally spread across the country -- his heart donated to a patient in Michigan, both lungs donated to North Carolina and his liver and kidneys in the Pittsburgh area.

"You take a tragedy and you turn it into something that's really beautiful," said his brother, John Dennison of Orange, Texas. "It's the best ending of that story."

Mr. Dennison was living in Pittsburgh during the filming of the movie "One for the Money," an adaptation of a Janet Evanovich novel starring Katherine Heigl as a bounty hunter.

He suffered a brain aneurysm during the film shoot the morning of Aug. 31 and died two days later at UPMC Mercy.

He and costume supervisor Jessica Fasman had spent the last couple months trolling Pittsburgh's malls and thrift shops looking for just the right Levis to clothe the movie's working-class characters.

"I don't know of anybody who didn't love him," said Ms. Fasman, of Los Angeles. "Everybody felt that he really understood who they were and where they were coming from -- he was amazingly collaborative."

Ms. Heigl said that she would never forget Mr. Dennison's "wonderful, passionate, talented spirit," releasing a statement through his agents that she is "heartbroken by his sudden passing, as is everyone here on the film."

Thanks to a childhood in Baton Rouge, La., and Beaumont, Texas, Mr. Dennison was known in costume design circles by the nickname "Dixie." Even in the first and second grade, Mr. Dennison loved to sew as a hobby, his brother said.

He graduated from the University of Houston and moved to New York after college, breaking into costume design and costume jewelry design on Broadway.

During a career that spanned three decades, Mr. Dennison worked his way up from costumer and wardrobe supervisor to costume supervisor and costume designer on movies as diverse as "Sophie's Choice," "Basic Instinct" and "The Spirit."

Mr. Dennison was recently nominated for his first Primetime Emmy Award for his work on the TV special "Georgia O'Keeffe." He did not attend the awards show last month because of work on "One for the Money" in Pittsburgh, which has since finished filming but is still wrapping up final details.

"That's what's really tough about this is that his career was taking off at the highest levels," said Cheryl Downey, executive director of the Costume Directors Guild in Los Angeles. "For us all to lose him at this time is tragic."

When he wasn't traveling, he lived in Arroyo Seco, N.M., and friends there are planning a memorial service for him.

In addition to his brother, Mr. Dennison is also survived by a brother, Greg of Port Arthur, Texas.

His family requests that memorial contributions go to the Center for Organ Recovery & Education in O'Hara, which handled the donation of his organs.


Anya Sostek: asostek@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1308.


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