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Roy Lee Dennis

1977 junior high school yearbook photo of Rocky Dennis in Glendora, CA.
Born Roy Lee Dennis
December 4, 1961(1961-12-04)
Glendora, California
Died October 4, 1978 (aged 16)
Glendora, California
Nationality United States
Parents 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, disfiguring, sclerotic bone disorder. The condition usually results in neurological disorders and death during childhood. His body was donated to UCLA Medical Center after he died.[1] His life was the basis for the 1985 feature drama film Mask.



Rocky Dennis was born December 4, 1961 in Glendora, California, to mother Florence "Rusty" Tullis and father Roy Dennis. At the age of 2, Dennis was diagnosed with craniodiaphyseal dysplasia, also known as CDD or lionitis, an extremely rare disease occurring in approximately 1 in every 22 million births, with fewer than 20 recorded cases. It is a bone disorder that causes calcium to build up in the skull, disfiguring the facial features and reducing life expectancy.

Doctors informed his mother that the abnormal calcium deposits in his skull would push his eyes toward the edges of his head, twist his nose out of shape, cause his eyesight and hearing to fail and, if the handful of cases on record were any indication, result in tremendous pressure that would destroy his brain before he was seven.

Dennis experienced problems with eyesight and hearing along with painful headaches, but was able to do most of the things doctors told him he would never accomplish, such as learn to read. They told him that his poor eyesight, which made him legally blind, meant that he would never read a book. However, he entered school at the age of six, despite disapproval by many teachers, and although experiencing a slow start (he spent two years in the first grade), he was able to make excellent progress thereafter.


Dennis had an older brother, Joshua, who died in 1987 at the age of 32 from complications related to AIDS contracted from a blood transfusion. Joshua was neither depicted nor mentioned in the film Mask.

Dennis's mother, Rusty Tullis, died on November 11, 2006 as a result of an infection following a motorcycle accident, at the age of 70. [2]

In popular culture

  • Anna Hamilton Phelan wrote a screenplay based on Dennis's life; Peter Bogdanovich directed the 1985 film, entitled Mask, in which Eric Stoltz portrays Dennis. The film was a dramatic depiction of his life, showing him as a mature, fun-loving, kind and thoughtful youth who had many dreams and lots of ambition. In one scene in the film, the character Dennis reads a poem to his mother, Rusty (played by Cher), written by the real Dennis. The movie originally was to feature music by Bruce Springsteen (Dennis's favorite artist), but due to problems with the record company, Bob Seger's music was used for the film's soundtrack. (Springsteen's music was reinstated for the 2004 Director's Cut DVD.) Most other parts of the movie are very loosely based on Dennis's life, with most of the scenes and dialogue altered for dramatic purposes. For example, the film shows Rusty at Dennis's gravesite; however, the real Dennis was not buried, as his mother donated his body to UCLA for medical research. The dates of birth and death on the tombstone are also incorrect. The movie also stated that he was diagnosed at the age of 4, which is incorrect.
  • 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 published Rocky Dennis in Heaven, an EP containing four songs about Dennis and his portrayal in the film.
  • In Family Guy, Captain Jean-Luc Picard makes fun of Lt. Commander Worf, comparing him to Rocky Dennis. [3]


  1. ^ Roy L. "Rocky" Dennis (1961 - 1978) - Find A Grave Memorial
  2. ^ "Florence 'Rusty' Tullis, 70; portrayed by Cher in 'Mask'," Boston Globe, Dennis McClellan, November 20, 2006. Retrieved from on 2008-11-28.
  3. ^ ""


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