Charles Durning, Star Of Tootsie, Dies Aged 89

Charles Durning, Star Of Tootsie, Dies Aged 89

Two-time Oscar nominee Charles Durning - dubbed the king of the character actors - has died aged 89.

The World War Two veteran died of natural causes at his home in New York City, his long-time agent and friend Judith Moss said.

Durning is best remembered for his Oscar-nominated roles as a comically corrupt governor in The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas and his portrayal of a bumbling Nazi officer in To Be Or Not To Be in 1983.

He was also the would-be suitor of Dustin Hoffman, posing as a female soap opera star in Tootsie.

Durning started his career on stage for the New York Shakespeare Festival until his breakout role as a small town mayor in the Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning play That Championship Season in 1972.

He went on to appear in more than 100 films, winning a Golden Globe in 1991 for his role 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.

"I never turned down anything and never argued with any producer or director," Durning said in 2008 when he was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.

"If I'm not in a part, I drive my wife crazy," he said during a 1997 interview. "I'll go downstairs to get the mail, and when I come back I'll say, 'Any calls for me?'."

Durning's rugged early life provided ample material on which to base his later portrayals.

He was born into an Irish family of 10 children. His father was unable to work, having lost a leg and been gassed during the First World War, so his mother supported the family by washing cadet uniforms.

Durning himself barely survived World War Two.

He was among the first wave of US soldiers to land at Normandy during the D-Day invasion and the only member of his army unit to survive.

He killed several Germans and was wounded in the leg. Later he was bayoneted by a young German soldier whom he killed with a rock.

He was captured in the Battle of the Bulge and survived a massacre of prisoners.

In later years, he refused to discuss the military service for which he was awarded the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts.

"Too many bad memories," he said in an interview in 1997. "I don't want you to see me crying."

Durning was determined to act from a young age despite a high school counsellor telling him he had no talent for art, languages or maths and should learn office skills instead.

Undeterred, he left home at 16, working in a munitions factory, on a slag heap and in a barbed-wire factory until he found work as a burlesque theatre usher in New York.

There, he studied the comedians' routines, and when one of them showed up too drunk to go on one night, he took his place.

He recalled years later that he became hooked as soon as he heard the audience laughing.

Durning and his first wife had three children before divorcing in 1972. In 1974, he married his high school sweetheart Mary Ann Amelio.

He is survived by his children, Michele, Douglas and Jeannine. The family planned to have a private family service and burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

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