Eileen Ryan, Actress and Mother of Sean Penn, Dies at 94

by Joe Rutland
(Photo Courtesy Getty Images)

Eileen Ryan, an actress who also was the mother of actor Sean Penn, died on Sunday at her home at 94 years old. Ryan was just one week away from turning 95. Ryan also was the mother of actor Christopher Penn and musician Michael Penn, Deadline reported. A family spokesperson would announce her death. Further information, including a cause of death, was not immediately available.

Ryan was born Eileen Annucci and would meet actor Leo Penn back in 1957. They crossed paths at some rehearsals for a Circle in the Square production named The Iceman Cometh. At the time, Leo Penn took over a role in the play from Jason Robards.

Eileen Ryan Appeared In Numerous TV Shows

Leo and Eileen would be married a few months later. It would last 41 years until Leo’s death back in 1998. As far as the career of Eileen Ryan is concerned, she would get steady work both in TV and movies. She made her initial TV appearance back in 1955 for the Goodyear Television Playhouse.

Other TV work covering from the 1960s to the 1990s and beyond included The Twilight Zone, Bonanza, The Detectives, Ben Casey, Little House on the Prairie, Arli$$, Marcus Welby, M.D., Ally McBeal, ER, CSI, NYPD Blue, Men of a Certain Age, and Grey’s Anatomy.

As far as movies go, she would have roles in films like Parenthood, At Close Range, and Benny & Joon. Of course, her sons were quite active in the film world and among those projects she appeared in would include At Close Range, I Am Sam, The Indian Runner, and The Crossing Guard. Penn would pop up on Broadway, too, in the 1953 production Sing Till Tomorrow and 1958’s Comes a Day.

But the woman probably was quite proud of her sons’ accomplishments, especially those of son Sean Penn. One time, in an interview for The New Yorker, she said this about her son Sean. She would tell Richard Kelly that, as a child, “Sean had his own private little world going.” Ironically, according to The New Yorker article, the actor-director’s kindergarten teacher would call him “Gary Cooper.” Eileen Ryan would say, “The only complaint that teachers ever gave me about him was ‘Is he happy?’ He seemed to be so quiet.”

While he might have been quiet as a young child, Sean Penn has been outspoken on a number of societal matters. His work has spanned the world of entertainment over the years. One of his most impressive pieces of work was his portrayal of Harvey Milk in the movie simply titled Milk. But Eileen would have a very full, robust career herself. Her family will lovingly remember her work and life for years to come.