Longtime Character Actor Charles Durning Has Passed Away at 89
Sad news arrived on Christmas Day with word that longtime character actor Charles Durning had passed away at age 89. Durning is one of those talents whose life not only made an impression on the big screen, but also on many in the years preceding his movie career. While may might know Durning from his turns in films like Tootsie, The Hudsucker Proxy and The Sting, the actor actually deserves even more credits for his service as a World War II veteran who took part in the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach, not to mention the Battle of the Bulge and also being one of very few survivors of the Malmedy massacre. Read on.
The New York Times wrote an extensive obituary and described his wartime exploits like this:
In Belgium he was stabbed in hand-to-hand combat with a German soldier, whom he bludgeoned to death with a rock. Fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, he and the rest of his company were captured and forced to march through a pine forest at Malmedy, the scene of an infamous massacre in which the Germans opened fire on almost 90 prisoners. Mr. Durning was among the few to escape.
Durning won a Silver Star for valor and three Purple Hearts when all was said and done after suffering gunshot and shrapnel wounds and spending months in hospitals. And after disappearing into what Durning called "a void" for about a decade, Durning went to American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, but was dismissed within a year. It wasn't until he was invited to audition for the Public Theater and the New York Shakespeare Festival, which gave him roles in 35 plays. But with small roles in films and TV that followed, Durning was on the way to becoming a better known name.
Quite a big break came from starring in the Best Picture winning The Sting in 1973, not to mention other 70s films like Dog Day Afternoon, The Muppet Movie and North Dallas Forty. Then the 80s brought him on the big screen with Robert De Niro in True Confessions and hitting on a cross-dressing Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie. That decade also landed him two Oscar nominations for supporting roles in the musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and also Mel Brooks' remake of To Be or Not to Be. And that's about half of his career.
Later Durning would find memorable roles in Dick Tracy, Home for the Holidays, Spy Hard, One Fine Day, and The Hudsucker Proxy and O Brother Where Art Thou with The Coen Brothers. Funnily enough, some people think Durning is the man behind the real Jeff Lebowski in the directing duo's The Big Lebowski, but that's actually David Huddleston, a dead ringer for Durning. Of course, Durning has plenty of other memorable roles in TV (many which resulted in Emmy nominations) and film that have made him easily recognizable and a legend who will live on well past his years.