Character actor and idiosyncratic leading man who performed with the Gate Theatre and the Abbey Players in Dublin before immigrating to the USA, O'Herlihy filled up the screen with a long resume of grand performances in Hollywood films from the 40s to the 90s. An architecture student who turned to acting to earn money for college--He appeared in more than 70 plays on the Dublin stage and played the lead in the original production of Sean O'Casey's "Red Roses for Me"--O'Herlihy wound up working with notables including Orson Welles, Gregory Peck and John Huston after being discovered by British director Carol Reed and cast opposite James Mason in the 1947 thriller "Odd Man Out." O'Herlihy joined Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre and played MacDuff opposite Welles' "Macbeth" in both the stage and (1948) screen version of the play. On the U.S. stage he also appeared in John Houseman's "Measure for Measure" in Los Angeles, "King Lear" at the Houston Shakespeare Festival and "Mass Appeal" at the Drury Lane Theatre, while on-screen he appeared with his 'Macbeth' co-star Roddy McDowall in a low-budget adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Kidnapped."
He became best known for his title role in Luis Bunuel's "The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe" (1954)--he beat out Welles for the role, which earned O'Herlihy an Oscar nomination as Best Actor. O'Herlihy had a long and varied career as a versatile player, he was seen in Douglas Sirk's melodrama "Imitation of Life" (1959), in Sidney Lumet's Cold War drama "Fail-Safe" (1964), as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt opposite Peck in "MacArthur" (1977), as a homicidal toymaker in "Halloween 3: Season of the Witch" (1982), in full makeup as a lizardlike alien in "The Last Starfighter" (1984), the lead character Mr. Browne in John Huston's film version of the James Joyce story "The Dead" (1987) and as the villainous Old Man, the CEO of Omni Consumer Products, in "RoboCop" (1987) and its 1990 sequel--the latter films made O'Herily a favorite of sci-fi and fantasy genre fans. His final role had him playing Kennedy family patriarch Joe Kennedy in the HBO telepic "The Rat Pack" in 1998.
O'Herilhy's scores of TV credits included Doc McPheeters in "The Travels of Jamie McPheeters" (1963), town boss Will Varner in the series version of "The Long Hot Summer" (1965), The Director in 'A Man Called Sloane' (1979), intelligence agent Carson Marsh in "Whiz Kids" (1984) and as Alexander Packard in the David Lynch-created cult favorite "Twin Peaks" (1990).
The actor's brother was the Emmy-nominated television and film director Michael O'Herlihy. One of O'Herily's sons, Gavan, was the Irish National Tennis Champion and followed his father's footsteps into acting, playing lost brother Chuck Cunningham in the first season of the sitcom "Happy Days."