Actor and decorated war veteran Charles Durning dies aged 89
Charles Durning, who overcame poverty, battlefield trauma and nagging self-doubt to become an acclaimed character actor, died on Christmas Eve at his home in Manhattan, New York. He was 89.
Durning was a familiar presence in American movies, television and theatre. He was a crooked cop in the 1973 movie The Sting, a dedicated assistant football coach in North Dallas Forty (1979) and a hypocritical power broker in True Confessions (1981).
If his ordinary-guy looks deprived him of leading-man roles, they did not leave him typecast. He could play gruff and combative or gentle and funny. In the comedy Tootsie (1982) he was a little of each, playing Jessica Lange’s unsuspecting father, who falls for a television actor masquerading as a woman.
His television credits were voluminous, from guest spots to substantial parts in TV movies and mini-series. In all, he received nine Emmy Award nominations, although he never won.
Durning was born in New York state in 1923, the ninth of 10 children. His father, James, an Irish immigrant, had been sickened by mustard gas and lost a leg in the first World War. He died when Charles was 12. Five of his sisters died of either smallpox or scarlet fever in childhood, three of them within two weeks.
He fought in the second World War, where his combat experiences were harrowing. He was in the first wave of troops to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day and his unit’s lone survivor of a machine-gun ambush. In Belgium he was stabbed in hand-to-hand combat with a German soldier, whom he bludgeoned to death with a rock.
By the war’s end he had been awarded a Silver Star for valour and three Purple Hearts, having suffered gunshot and shrapnel wounds as well. He spent months in hospitals and was treated for psychological trauma. – (New York Times service)