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Marianne Leone and Chris Cooper

7:30 p.m. Monday, September 16, 2024

Conversation/Q&A with WAMC’s Joe Donahue
Page Hall - University at Albany Downtown Campus
135 Western Avenue, Albany NY 12203 See map.

Marianne Leone, actress, writer and advocate for disabled children, is the author of Five-Dog Epiphany: How a Quintet of Badass Bichons Retrieved Our Joy (Sep. 2024)— a tribute to the rescue dogs who helped her and husband Chris Cooper rediscover happiness after the tragic loss of their son Jesse, who died in 2005 at age 17 from complications of cerebral palsy.


An actress in many films, including The Thin Blue Line (1988), True Love (1989), Goodfellas (1990), The Three Stooges (2012), and Joy (2015). Leone is best-known for her recurring role as the mother of Christopher Moltisanti in the hit series The Sopranos.

Her essays have appeared in the collection Fury: Women's Lived Experiences During the Trump Era as well as the Boston Globe, Lit Hub, Ploughshares, Post Road, Bark Magazine, Coastal Living, Solstice, and elsewhere. She is the author of two memoirs, Jesse: A Mother's Story (2011) and Ma Speaks Up: And a First-Generation Daughter Talks Back (2017). 

Chris Cooper earned an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as backwoods “orchid poacher” John Laroche in the 2002 film, Adaptation, based on The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean.


Cooper collaborates frequently with celebrated filmmaker and Schenectady native John Sayles, appearing in Matewan (1987), City of Hope (1991), Lone Star (1996), Silver City (2004) and Amigo (2010). Other credits include American Beauty (1999), Seabiscuit (2003), Capote (2005), Syriana (2005), The Kingdom (2007), Where the Wild Things Are (2009), A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019), and Little Women (2019). On TV, he starred as Sheriff July Johnson in the widely acclaimed 1989 miniseries, Lonesome Dove.

About Five-Dog Epiphany: How a Quintet of Badass Bichons Retrieved Our Joy

Marianne Leone writes about the joy that can be summoned after a great loss, "when you look into the eyes of another damaged creature and know that your happiness is a mirror and an echo and a prayer, and that the little soul reflecting all that energy is happy too, at last."


This memoir is a moving and sometimes surprisingly funny exploration of grief and the mutual healing that can occur between rescue dogs and people who have experienced a soul-crushing loss. Leone and her husband, actor Chris Cooper, lost their only child suddenly in 2005. Jesse was seventeen, a straight-A student, and a brilliant poet, who was also quadriplegic and nonverbal except with the assistance of a computer.


When six-year-old Jesse miraculously blurted "dog" to Santa, Goody appeared on his bed on Christmas morning. Goody was followed by Lucky, Frenchy, Titi, and Sugar, all rescues adopted after Jesse’s passing. After Jesse’s death, Leone grew a tumor the size of her premature son at birth, her husband disappeared into dark acting roles (Breach, Married Life), and Leone fainted during the filming of a scene in The Sopranos where she is standing in front of her television son’s coffin.


This is the story of a bereaved couple and a pack of rescue dogs finding their way to a new life, everyone licking their wounds, both corporal and spiritual, and the rediscovery of joy.


"An actor, screenwriter, and essayist reflects on how caring for five small dogs helped her come to terms with the death of her quadriplegic, nonverbal son . . . Candid and bighearted, this book about the healing power of animal companionship will warm the hearts of animal lovers and general audiences alike. Joyful, affecting reading about love and family."
― Kirkus Reviews

"Five-Dog Epiphany is a marvel―a poignant and revelatory memoir about the profound relationship between humans and their canine companions. Marianne Leone writes about grief and dogs and love and healing in a voice that’s raw and lyrical, and utterly her own."
― Tom Perrotta, author of Tracy Flick Can’t Win

"While reading this heartrending, often funny, and ultimately life-affirming memoir, I found myself thinking of the nonfiction masters Joan Didion and Patti Smith, for these are Marianne Leone’s peers. Written in lyrical, evocative prose that is as erudite as it is streetwise, this unforgettable memoir takes us unflinchingly into fathomless loss where the only lifeline may just be compassion for the suffering of other living creatures with whom we share this imperiled planet, dogs especially; Five-Dog Epiphany nourishes the soul as only genuine art can, by illuminating the simple yet elusive truth that love of all kinds holds the power to sustain and maybe even save us."
― Andre Dubus III, author of Such Kindness

"Marianne Leone has written a gorgeous and often hilarious memoir that can break your heart and lift you up in one swift move. Her rich, delicious prose will move even those of us who’ve spent most of our lives basking in the warmth of dog love."
― Julie Klam, author of You Had Me at Woof

"I tore through this book, couldn’t put it down. It was deeply, profoundly moving. And my rescue pitbull kept looking at me, trying to identify the sound coming out of me, then jumping up to lick off my tears. Very fitting. I am so grateful to Marianne Leone for sharing her story with the world."
― Edie Falco, actress

"Marianne Leone’s exploration of grief after the loss of her son offers powerful truths that have no offensive sugarcoating and are hard won by her and her husband, Chris Cooper. Dogs populate this story, and I loved getting to know them all, but the book is really about Leone and about her heart and her life and her memory and her grief and her love. I would read her writing about anything, due to her brilliance and sense of humor on any topic."
― Rob Delaney, author of A Heart That Works

Major support for The Creative Life is provided by the University at Albany Foundation.

Marianne Leone and Chris Cooper
Marianne Leone's Five-Dog Epiphany
Marianne Leone books-400.jpg
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