Charles Durning, a two-time Oscar nominee for supporting actor and dubbed the king of the character actors because of his skill in being able to play any role such as the pope or a Nazi colonel. Best remembered for his role as a comically corrupt governor in 1982’s “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” Charles Durning, age 89, died Monday in New York City. According to Judith Moss, Durning’s longtime agent and friend told the Associated Press that he passed away due to natural causes at his home in the borough of Manhattan.
Known as a character actor, it was appropriate that Durning spoke in 1990 with USA TODAY as he starred as Big Daddy in a Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
He said, “I was born a character actor. I was born looking older — and I’ve been aging since I was a teenager.”
Henry Winkler eulogized Durning as “the actor’s actor” after his death on Twitter because of his ability to portray roles from blustery public officials to comic foils to put-upon every men. Many feel that he belonged in the same class as actor Jack Klugman, who also died Monday in Los Angeles. He also spent his career building up a variety of different characters that classed him indisputably, along with Durning, as “character actors.”
Though Durning was nominated for a Golden Globe when he played a harried police lieutenant in the 1975 film “Dog Day Afternoon,” it was his Oscar-nominated role in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” that critics began to notice Durning’s acting ability.
For example, critics marveled in that a heavyset man was able to be so nimble in the film’s show-stopping song-and-dance number. They were unaware he had been a dance instructor earlier in his career and met his first wife, Carol, when both of them worked at a dance studio.
A year after the movie, Durning was at it again when he received another Oscar nomination. This time, it was for his portrayal of a bumbling Nazi officer in the Mel Brooks’ film “To Be or Not to Be.” Over the course of his career, Durning had won Tony and Golden Globe awards to go with the two Academy Award nominations mentioned earlier. He not only received nine Emmy nominations but was honored in 2007 for a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild.
He loved his profession and when he was honored in 2008 with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he spoke with the Associated Press and told them that, “I never turned down anything and never argued with any producer or director.”
Unfortunately for Durning, his life growing up was anything but a bed full of roses. Born into an Irish family of ten children in 1923, he grew up in Highland Falls, New York; a town that was near West Point. Having been gassed and losing a leg in World War I, his father was unable to work; so, his mother was force to support the family by washing the uniforms of West Point cadets.
As Charles grew older, he found himself fighting in World War II in which he barely survived. He found himself in the first wave of U.S. soldiers that landed at Normandy during the D-Day invasion. He would be the only member of his Army unit that survived. Though he was able to kill several German soldiers, he later was wounded in the leg by a young German soldier. The soldier bayoneted him and was able to kill him with a rock. Later, he was captured in the Battle of the Bulge and was lucky to survive a massacre of prisoners.
In 1994, Durning narrated the Discovery Channel’s “Normandy: The Great Crusade.” He spoke with USA Today, “They train you to do awful things, then they release you and wonder why you are so bitter and angry. Scars that you have from wounds heal. Scars that you have mentally never heal.”
He continued by saying “There’s no nobility with war. It’s tear-’em-up destruction that leaves you frustrated, bitter and angry. … If you really knew what it was like for an hour, you wouldn’t want anyone to go through it.” As time went on, he refused to discuss his service in the military though he was awarded the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts. He told an interviewer in 1997 that “Too many bad memories. I don’t want you to see me crying.”
Durning had three children with his first wife before they divorced in 1972. Two years later, he married Mary Ann Amelio, his high school sweetheart. He is survived by his three children, Jeannine, Michele and Douglass. The family is planning a family service and burial in Arlington National Cemetery.
Charles Durning, King of Character Actors, Dies
Actor Charles Durning has died at the age of 89. Durning was known as the king of the character actors, for his wide range of roles. He was nominated for two oscars during his long career.