Actor Charles Durning has died at the age of 89. According to Deadline Hollywood the veteran character actor died on Christmas Eve of natural causes at his Manhattan home. Originally from nearby Highland Falls, New York, Durning was one of the busiest actors in Hollywood for decades, and was absolutely what you thought a tough-talking Irishman looked and sounded like.
A former professional boxer and a decorated World War II combat veteran, Durning took part in both the D-Day invasion on the legendary Omaha Beach as well as the Battle of the Bulge. He was also one of the few survivors of the infamous Malmedy Massacre, when SS troops opened fire on American POW’s.
Durning turned to acting upon his return home, studying at the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts, then finding work first on TV and stage. He understudied a number of roles on Broadway before finally landing a role in “That Championship Season” that got him noticed by director George Roy Hill, who cast him as Lt. Snyder in “The Sting.”
“The Sting” was an Academy Award winning mega-hit, and Durning parlayed his success there into roles in Billy Wilder’s 1974 remake of “The Front Page” and Tom Gries’ 1975 adaptation of Alistair MacLean’s western/suspense thriller “Breakheart Pass” opposite Charles Bronson.
Once Durning’s career in Hollywood got rolling, virtually not a year went by that he wasn’t in something, usually a bunch of somethings. In 1975 alone he appeared in 3 feature films, including “Dog Day Afternoon,” 3 made-for-TV movies, and did guest appearances on “Switch,” “Cannon,” “Barnaby Jones,” “Baretta” and “Hawaii Five-O.”
It continued that way not for years but for decades. The man never seemed to stop working. He appeared in some 100 feature films, ranging from forgettable (“Twilight’s Least Gleaming,” “The Choirboys”) to iconic (“Tootsie”). He formed a long-time friendship and professional relationship with Burt Reynolds, leading to roles in many Reynolds projects, including the movies “Starting Over,” “Sharky’s Machine” and “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and the TV series “Evening Shade.”
Durning also co-starred in the original cult horror hit “When a Stranger Calls” and major star vehicles like “True Confessions” opposite Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall, “Dick Tracy” opposite Warren Beatty, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” opposite George Clooney. He had done an immense amount of television work in recent years, including “The Practice,” “Now and Again,” “Early Edition,” “First Monday,” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Rescue Me,” where he played the father of Denis Leary’s character. He received one of his seven career Emmy nominations for that role in 2008.
He also received two Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor in his long career, for Mel Brooks’ remake of “To Be or Not To Be” and “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” (You can watch Durning sing and dance as the governor of Texas in that one by clicking the lower box on the left.) Durning also received a Golden Globe award in 1991 for his performance in “The Kennedys of Massachusetts,” a Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, and was honored by the Online Film Critics Society as part of the best ensemble cast performance for “State and Main” in 2001. He won a Tony for his performance as Big Daddy in a 1990 Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
Durning’s personal life was quiet. He had three children by his first wife, Carol Durning, from who he was divorced. He remarried Mary Anne Amelio in 1974.
His last work was on the feature “Scavenger Kills,” scheduled for release in 2013, co-starring Eric Roberts, Robert Loggia and the infamous Dustin Diamond.