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
Nationality United States
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. His life was the basis for the 1985 drama film Mask.


Rocky Dennis was born in Glendora, California, to Florence "Rusty" Tullis and Roy Dennis, his legal, but not biological father. At the age of 2 he was diagnosed with craniodiaphyseal dysplasia, also known as CDD or lionitis, an extremely rare disease occurring in approximately 1 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 seventeenth birthday.[4][5]

Despite the eyesight and hearing problems, and painful headaches, Dennis did many things he was thought unable to do, such as learning to read, though his poor eyesight kept him from reading books. He entered school at 6, though school authorities recommended against it;[5] and after a slow start (he spent two years in the first grade) he was able to make some progress before dying at 16 from his condition. His body was donated to UCLA Medical Center.[6][better source needed] He declined to have plastic surgery.[4]

Dennis resided in Azusa, California. He, Joshua, and his parents lived in Covina, where he attended Ben Lomond Elementary School. After his mother's departure from the home, he was raised by Roy Sr. and Roy Sr.'s mother and later his step mother for a time. He later returned to Rusty's care and was raised by both parents separately. Rocky and Roy Sr. maintained a good relationship throughout Rocky's life.


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] He had no other siblings. Neither his father nor half brother Joshua were portrayed in Mask.


Anna Hamilton Phelan wrote a screenplay based on Dennis' life; Peter Bogdanovich directed the 1985 drama film, titled Mask, in which Eric Stoltz portrays Dennis. In one scene in the film, the character Dennis reads a poem to his mother, Rusty (played by Cher), written by the real Dennis. Rusty's boyfriend Bernie is portrayed as the character Gar played by Sam Elliott. The movie is based very loosely on Dennis' life, with most of the scenes and dialogue altered for dramatic purposes.

Phelan also 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.

Swedish pop musician Jens Lekman self-published a song called "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 portrayal in the film.


  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.