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|Roy Lee Dennis|
Dennis' junior high school yearbook photo, 1977
|Born||Roy Lee Dennis
December 4, 1961
Glendora, California, United States
|Died||October 4, 1978
Glendora, California, United States
|Parent(s)||Florence "Rusty" Tullis
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 body was donated to UCLA Medical Center after he died. His life was the basis for the 1985 Academy Award-winning drama film Mask.
Rocky Dennis was born in Glendora, California, to Florence "Rusty" Tullis and Roy Dennis. At the age of 4, Dennis 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, 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, based on the handful of cases on record, result in tremendous pressure that would eventually destroy his brain.
Dennis experienced problems with eyesight and hearing along with painful headaches; but he was able to do many things he was thought not to be able to accomplish, such as learning to read. His poor eyesight, which made him legally blind, meant that he would never read a book. He entered school at the age of 6, despite many of his teachers' disapproval; and, although experiencing a slow start (he spent two years in the first grade), he was able to make some progress thereafter and died at 16 years of age from his life-limiting condition.
Dennis's older brother, Joshua 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. His sister, Amanda Ballinger, currently lives in Illinois.
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. The movie is based very loosely on Dennis' life, with most of the scenes and dialogue altered for dramatic purposes. For example, the film shows Rusty at Dennis' 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.
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. 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.
- Witt, Linda (11 May 1986). "An Unusual Mother: Helping Her Children Face Down Death (2 of 4)". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 23 April 2016.
- Witt, Linda (11 May 1986). "An Unusual Mother: Helping Her Children Face Down Death (3 of 4)". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 23 April 2016.
- Roy L. "Rocky" Dennis (1961 - 1978) - Find A Grave Memorial
- "Craniodiaphyseal dysplasia" at Orpha.net
- "The Drama Behind Mask". Retrieved 2015-11-27.
- "Florence 'Rusty' Tullis, 70; portrayed by Cher in 'Mask'," Bottom Globe, Dennis McClellan, November 20, 2006. Retrieved from Boston.com on 2008-11-28.
- Jens Lekman Interview
- "The Drama Behind Mask" Article 03-18-1985 from People Magazine
- Roy Lee "Rocky" Dennis at Find a Grave
- Joshua Mason at Find a Grave
- Florence "Rusty" Steinberg Tullis at Find a Grave