Hopefully most of you had a wonderful Christmas yesterday. Unfortunately for Charles Durning's family, it was a time during which they had to say goodbye to him. Charles, 89, was a venerable actor and honored military hero. The two-time Oscar-nominated actor died of natural causes on Monday, December 24, at his home in New York City.
You probably recognize him from at least one of his many TV show and movie appearances during his long career in Hollywood. But he's also got quite the fascinating backstory. Durning was born in Highland Falls, New York -- the fourth child out of ten siblings. Sadly, he lost five sisters when they were little due to scarlet fever and smallpox.
And believe it or not, the first time he acted was as an usher at a burlesque theater; he replaced one of the comedians who was too drunk to go on stage! Let's take a look at some of his more memorable moments:
1.) When he was 21, Durning was drafted to serve in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was awarded the Combat Infantryman's Badge, Silver Star, Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart Medals. Also, he was in the first wave of troops that landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day -- amazingly, he's his unit's lone survivor of a machine-gun ambush, according to The New York Times. It took him 50 years after D-Day to discuss what he had to go through.
2.) He's got a bit of a classical background, which a Shakespeare nerd like me can really appreciate; Durning appeared in 35 plays for the New York Shakespeare Festival. He was also trained in classical dance and a dance instructor before getting into acting.
3.) You may recognize him from the Dustin Hoffman hit Tootsie from his more than 100 film and television credits. He was also in When a Stranger Calls, Dog Day Afternoon, Rescue Me, Everybody Loves Raymond, and The Hindenburg. According to his IMDB bio, he didn't appear in front of a camera until he was in his 40s!
4.) Durning received Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas in 1982 and To Be or Not to Be in 1983.
5.) He also received nine Emmy Award nominations. He won a Tony Award for his role as Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (for the revival). Then in 1990, he won a Golden Globe Award for the television miniseries The Kennedys in Massachusetts.
6.) He's played Santa Claus five times in his storied career.
7.) Durning's second wife, Mary Ann Amelio, whom he married in 1973, was a childhood sweetheart.
Here he is singing in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which won an Academy Award for Best Song in a Musical:
And here's a short bio video made for his lifetime achievement award at the Hoboken International Film Festival:
Doesn't he seem like the kind of guy you'd like to be best friends with? What a life and what a career. Thanks Durning for all the memories and for your service. Our thoughts and prayers are with his loved ones!
What's your favorite Charles Durning moment?
Image via kjm2672/YouTube