Roche Drug Trial Witness Dennehy Says Actor’s Loss a ‘Tragedy’

The early end of James Marshall’s career, blamed by the actor and musician on Roche Holding AG’s Accutane acne drug, was an “unbelievable tragedy,” former co-star Brian Dennehy said in court.

Dennehy, who testified yesterday in the New Jersey trial of Marshall’s lawsuit against Roche, said 44-year-old Marshall was headed toward stardom before inflammatory bowel disease linked to the drug sidelined his career. Marshall played U.S. Marine Louden Downey in the 1992 movie “A Few Good Men.”

“This is an unbelievable tragedy,” Dennehy said in an interview outside the Atlantic City, New Jersey, courthouse. “It amazes me that something like this could have happened and could have had such a long-range effect on a career that should have topped.”

About 16 million people have taken Accutane, once Roche’s second-biggest-selling drug, since it went on the market in 1982, according to plaintiffs’ lawyers. Basel, Switzerland-based Roche, the world’s biggest maker of cancer drugs, pulled its brand-name version of Accutane off the market in 2009 after juries awarded millions of dollars in damages to former users over bowel-disease claims. Roche, which has lost all seven cases that have gone to trial, contends it didn’t pull the drug for safety reasons.

Marshall, a New Jersey native who now lives in Thousand Oaks, California, is seeking at least $11 million in damages for his Accutane-related injuries, including emergency surgery to remove his colon. Jurors are hearing claims by Marshall and two other ex-Accutane users that the drug destroyed their intestinal systems.

More Celebrities

Marshall’s lawyers told jurors they would call other Hollywood celebrities, including actor Martin Sheen and director Rob Reiner, to testify that their colleague’s career was rising until bowel ailments allegedly caused by Accutane left him either unable to work or forced him to accept minor roles.

Roche contends Accutane’s link to inflammatory bowel disease hasn’t been conclusively proven, according to court filings. The company also argues it provided adequate warnings about risks that some users might suffer bowel problems.

The company’s lawyers told jurors that Marshall’s “medical records will show he had inflammatory bowel disease years before ever taking Accutane,” Christopher Vancheri, a Roche spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement.

The company isn’t expected to begin presenting its evidence in the case for at least two weeks. Judge Carol Higbee is presiding over the state-court trial.

‘Gladiator’ Role

Dennehy, 72, is a Tony-Award winning actor who has appeared in more than 150 movies, including the 1977 pro football comedy “Semi-Tough” and the 1983 Cold War thriller “Gorky Park.” He is also known for his Broadway role of Willie Loman in “Death of a Salesman.”

The white-haired Dennehy told jurors in Marshall’s case that he met the actor in 1991 when they co-starred in a boxing movie called “Gladiator.” The New Jersey native’s intensity and “mysterious” looks set him apart from other young actors, Dennehy said.

“He had a quality that it’s hard to define, this burning inside. It comes from the eyes,” Dennehy said. “He had that, just like Cuba Gooding Jr. has it.”

In the movie, Gooding and Marshall played boxers whose fights were promoted by Dennehy. At the conclusion, Marshall knocks out Dennehy during a boxing match. “I was the bad guy,” Dennehy said. “I got my just desserts.”

‘Few Good Men’

Dennehy said he wasn’t surprised that Marshall landed a lead role in “A Few Good Men.” The veteran actor said he didn’t get a chance to see Marshall play a Marine private being court-martialed for an incident in his barracks in Cuba until several years after the movie was released.

“I don’t go to the movies very much or watch much television,” he said, chuckling.

Dennehy said he didn’t stay in touch with Marshall over the years and wasn’t aware of his medical problems until after the actor sued Roche over Accutane. The two men hugged during a break in the case when Marshall spotted Dennehy sitting in the back of the courtroom.

Reiner, an award-winning director who picked Marshall for a co-starring role in “A Few Good Men,” told jurors the actor “was incredibly gifted.”

Marshall had “this incredible sexuality and magnetism,” Reiner said in a videotaped deposition played for jurors yesterday. “He jumps off the screen and it’s rare. I thought, you know, here’s another James Dean. He blew me away.”

‘Limitless’ Prospects

Reiner, who has directed movies such as “Ghosts of Mississippi” and “When Harry Met Sally,” said Marshall’s career prospects were “limitless” after co-starring in “A Few Good Men.”

“You have a young guy like that who has that kind of sensuality, that kind of screen presence, and has that kind of acting ability,” the director said. “You know he’s going to be successful. You don’t know the level of success.”

Accutane is made by Roche unit Hoffmann-LaRoche Inc. of Nutley, New Jersey, allowing Marshall to bring his claim in the state. The case’s two other plaintiffs, Gillian Gaghan and Kelley Andrews, are also California residents.

Andrews, 29, is an account manager while Gaghan, 34, is a nursing assistant. Marshall was born James Greenblatt, according to court filings.

All three contend the drug left them struggling to deal with their bodily waste, their lawyer, Michael Hook, said before the trial, which is scheduled to last six weeks. Both Andrews and Marshall battle incontinence while Gaghan has “developed lupus-like symptoms” as a result of taking drugs to deal with her Accutane-linked bowel disease, he said.

Litigation Record

The case combining the three ex-Accutane users’ claims is the eighth to go to trial since juries began weighing allegations against the drug. Juries in New Jersey and Florida have ordered Roche to pay at least $45 million in damages.

Appeals courts have thrown out some of the verdicts, including a 2007 award of $7 million to a Florida man who blamed the drug for his bowel disease. Last year, an Atlantic City jury ordered Roche to pay $25.1 million to a man who attributed his bowel disease to Accutane. That case was a retrial of an earlier verdict overturned by appellate judges.

In August, a New Jersey appellate court also overturned a $10.5 million Accutane verdict against the company on an evidentiary issue.

Roche has won dismissals of Accutane cases filed in federal court that have been upheld on appeal and has challenged the state court verdicts by asking judges to throw them out or filing appeals, company officials said in a statement yesterday.

The latest New Jersey case is Greenblatt v. Hoffmann-LaRoche Inc., ATL-l-1246-06, New Jersey Superior Court, Atlantic County (Atlantic City).

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