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Charles Durning, ‘King Of Character Actors,’ Dies In Manhattan At 89

Charles Durning

Charles Durning, dubbed the king of character actors, died Monday at his home in New York City. The two time Oscar nominee was 89, and his cause of death was recorded as natural causes, his agent, Judith Moss, told the Associated Press.

Durning is best remembered for his role as the comically corrupt governor in the 1982 smash hit The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. He was nominated for an Oscar for the role. He has played almost every type of character in his long career from Nazi soldiers to the Pope. A year after his role in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, he was nominated for a second Oscar for his role as an idiot Nazi officer in To Be or Not to Be. He was also nominated for a Golden Globe for his role as a policeman in Dog Day Afternoon. He won a golden Globe for his role of John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald in the TV film The Kennedys of Massachusetts and a Tony in 1990 as Big Daddy in the Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

For a very heavy man, Durning was also a prized dancer. He met his first wife Carol while working at the same dance studio as her.

Durning really came to life on screen for his breakout role as a small town mayor in the Pulitzer- and Tony Award-winning play That Championship Season in 1972. He followed up that role acting alongside Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the Oscar winning hit The Sting. He has also played roles in Tootsie, The Muppet Movie, The Front Page, The Hindenburg, ‘O Brother Where Art Though, Spy Hard, Dick Tracy, and I Would be Called John: Pope John XXIII

Durning was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2008.

He told the Associated Press at the time:

“I never turned down anything and never argued with any producer or director. If I’m not in a part, I drive my wife crazy. I’ll go downstairs to get the mail, and when I come back I’ll say, ‘Any calls for me?’”

Before becoming an actor, Durning had served his country as an infantryman during World War II. He was among the first wave of soldiers who stormed the beach at Normandy. He was the only member of his unit to survive, taking a bullet to the leg. He was captured at the Battle of the Bulge and survived a massacre of war prisoners before the Germans surrendered. He was awarded the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts.

Durning had three children with his first wife before a divorce in 1972. In 1974, he married his high school sweetheart Mary Ann Amelio. The family will lay him to rest in a private ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

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