Dennis "Denny" HennenSeptember 6, 1952 ~ August 4, 2017 (age 64)
“Hey babydoll!" Can you hear it? It's a Thursday night, and there's a crowd of hundreds sloshing beer onto the floor as they laugh over one another and the music, hugging and back-slapping and drinking just a little too much. The music is loud at the Revelry Room, the sounds of cars rush by outside in a summer night in downtown Chattanooga, and in another decade, in another ground-floor cavern located just off Market Street, this might be Yesterday's. Yesterday's the site of so many sloppy toasts that became lifelong friendships, unsubtle handholding that turned into marriages, fights and stories and moments that have become legendary. And at the center of all of this is the face of the institution and of Chattanooga nightlife for nearly three decades himself: Denny Hennen. Close your eyes and see him there: laughing that guffawing, booming laugh, his long, lanky body draped over the pea-gravel trashcan outside Yesterday's entrance like an unofficial throne. A cigarette dangling from one hand, the stack of cover-fee cash in another, he holds up the line just to hug you and somehow that skinny body fills you with so much warmth because he looks you in the eyes with that broad, lopsided grin and says "hey babydoll!" like you're the exact and only person he wants to see tonight. Close your eyes and see him loping toward you in that confident gait (I think the word for it is swagger), hips jutted out and hands cocked out to the side, ready to pull you in for a handshake that becomes a hug: "hey boy!" Can you feel it? Always the warmth, always the goofiness, always that lopsided grin that he never quite outgrew (even in his childhood school pictures, that knowing grin was there—mischief was in the boy's blood from the start). Denny was so much to so many people—the face of Chattanooga life in many of its forms, from Yesterday's to Budweiser—but to me, he was my Uncle Denny. And he was no less legendary in that role. He made himself heard at our family Christmases (and let me just tell you that, at a Hennen family Christmas, is a few), shouting out crude jokes and calling his brothers scathing, decades-old names. He made himself seen; grabbing his nephews in a brusque hug around the neck, hands on the shoulders of his sister and sisters-in-law But Denny saved the greatest of his tenderness for his son, Brian. I close my eyes and can see their two sinewy, hook-nosed, carbon-copy bodies squished together on the couch, saying nothing, hands holding, both of them simply present and happy to be in this living room with this family.
How do you write of legends? My Uncle Denny was a legend in this city for all (okay, mostly) the right reasons, and they were reasons that stuck with him until the very end: a fierce love and protectiveness for his family, a need to make you feel seen, a desire to bring people together, and a silly, unashamed, unabashed warmth that could fill a city and fill a family. On the evening of Friday, August 4, Denny Hennen passed away peacefully with all of his sibling’s hands on him, his son, nieces, nephews, and his lifelong friend nearby. He brought us together as only Denny could, and for that, I’ll give back to him the last words that he spoke to me: Thank you. So thank you, boy.
Please join the family in celebrating Denny at 12 PM on Tuesday, August 8, at the First Tennessee Pavilion. The family will receive friends 2 hours prior to service.
In lieu of flowers please make contributions to the Make-a-Wish Foundation, or just help someone out like Denny would.
Please visit www.heritagechattanooga.com to share words of comfort to the family. Arrangements by Heritage Funeral Home, 7454 E. Brainerd Rd.