Roy L. Dennis

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Roy L. Dennis
Dennis' junior high school yearbook photo, 1977
Born Roy Lee Dennis
(1961-12-04)December 4, 1961[1]
Glendora, California, U.S.
Died October 4, 1978(1978-10-04) (aged 16)[2]
Glendora, California, U.S.
Cause of death Sudden arrhythmic death syndrome
Other names Rocky Dennis
Parent(s) Florence "Rusty" Tullis
Roy Dennis

Roy Lee "Rocky" Dennis (December 4, 1961 – October 4, 1978) was an American boy afflicted with craniodiaphyseal dysplasia, an extremely rare, sclerotic bone disorder. The condition usually results in neurological disorders and death during childhood or teenage years. His life was the basis for the 1985 drama film Mask.

Early life and diagnosis[edit]

Rocky Dennis was born in Glendora, California, to Florence "Rusty" Tullis and Roy Dennis, his legal, but not biological father. At the age of two he was diagnosed with craniodiaphyseal dysplasia, also known as CDD or lionitis, an extremely rare disease occurring in approximately one in every 220 million births, with fewer than 20 recorded cases. CDD is a bone disorder that causes calcium to build up in the skull.[3] Based on the handful of recorded cases, doctors predicted that the pressure from the calcium deposits in his skull would distort his face, destroy his eyesight and hearing, and eventually affect his brain, with death before his 17th birthday.[4][5]

Teen years and death[edit]

Despite his eyesight limitations, hearing problems, and the painful headaches he endured, Dennis was eventually able to do a number of things his doctors felt he would be unable to do. Dennis learned to read even though his poor eyesight kept him from reading books. He entered school at age six, although school authorities recommended against it;[5] and after a slow start (he spent two years in the first grade) he was able to make academic progress before his death at 16. Dennis' body was donated to UCLA Medical Center.[6][better source needed] Dennis declined to have plastic surgery to correct his facial malformation.[4]

Dennis resided in Azusa, California as well as Covina. There, along with his half-brother, Joshua, he lived with his parents and attended Ben Lomond Elementary School. Following his mother leaving the family, Dennis was raised for a time by his legal father and grandmother as well as his stepmother. When his mother returned to raise Dennis, he lived with her apart from his father but was raised by both parents separately as they were able to maintain a good relationship throughout his life.[citation needed]


Dennis's older half-brother, Joshua "John" Mason, died in 1987 at age 32 from complications of AIDS. His mother, Rusty Tullis, died on November 11, 2006, at age 70 as a result of an infection following a motorcycle accident.[5] Neither his father nor his half-brother Joshua were acknowledged in the film Mask.

In popular culture[edit]

Dennis' life has been the subject of several artistic renderings including film, a stage musical, and song. The better known of the three formats is the 1985 film, Mask. Peter Bogdanovich directed the 1985 drama film taken from Anna Hamilton Phelan's screenplay based on Dennis' life with Eric Stoltz portraying Dennis. In one scene in the film, Stoltz' Dennis reads a poem to his mother, Rusty (played by Cher), that was written by Dennis. The movie is based loosely on Dennis' life, with most of the scenes and dialogue altered for dramatic purposes.[citation needed]

Mask writer Phelan adapted her screenplay into a stage musical of the same name, with music by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. The musical premiered at the Pasadena Playhouse in California on March 12, 2008.[citation needed]

Swedish pop musician Jens Lekman self-published a song titled "Rocky Dennis' Farewell Song to the Blind Girl", causing DJs to mistakenly call the musician by Rocky Dennis' name.[7] Lekman clarified that the song was not about himself with the release of Rocky Dennis in Heaven, an EP containing four songs about Dennis and his film portrayal.


  1. ^ Witt, Linda (11 May 1986). "An Unusual Mother: Helping Her Children Face Down Death (2 of 4)". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 23 April 2016. 
  2. ^ Witt, Linda (11 May 1986). "An Unusual Mother: Helping Her Children Face Down Death (3 of 4)". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 23 April 2016. 
  3. ^ "Craniodiaphyseal dysplasia",
  4. ^ a b Green, Michelle (March 18, 1985). "The Drama Behind Mask". People. Retrieved July 11, 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c McClellan, Dennis (November 20, 2006). "Florence 'Rusty' Tullis, 70; portrayed by Cher in 'Mask'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 11, 2016 – via Boston Globe. 
  6. ^ Roy L. "Rocky" Dennis (1961 - 1978) - Find A Grave Memorial
  7. ^ Jens Lekman Interview, Indiepop.