R.I.P. Charles Durning

Charles Durning, one of the most prolific and acclaimed character actors of his generation, has died at the age of 89. As a U.S. serviceman in the World War II, Durning was among the troops landing at Omaha Beach on D-Day; later, he participated in the Battle of the Bulge. His service earned him a Silver Star, three Purple Hearts, and the National Order of the Legion of Honour. He was a professional boxer and a dance instructor before his acting career took off.  Durning had small roles in the short independent feature Harvey Middleman, Fireman (1965), Brian De Palma’s Hi, Mom! (1970), and John Frankenheimer’s I Walk The Line (1970), but his first real banner year was 1973, when he appeared in De Palma’s Sisters and George Roy Hill’s The Sting and starred in the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play That Championship Season. Two years later, he played the cop negotiating, at top volume, with Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon and was nominated for an Emmy for the middle-aged love story Queen Of The Stardust Ballroom. He also starred in the short-lived TV series The Cop And The Kid.

There was a while in the ’70s and ’80s where any new list of Oscar or Emmy nominees that didn’t contain Durning’s name seemed a likely sign of the coming end of times. His noteworthy film credits include Robert Aldrich’s Twilight’s Last Gleaming and The Choirboys (both 1977); a starring role in the 1977 PBS film The Dancing Bear; De Palma’s The Fury (1978); Starting Over (1979), which was the first of several occasions when he worked with Burt Reynolds;  North Dallas Forty (1979); The Muppet Movie (1979); another Emmy-nominated role for playing the warden of the prison in the TV film Attica (1980); True Confessions (1981); pitching woo at Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie (1982); an Oscar-nominated role as the singing, dancing Governor in The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas (1982); unseen and uncredited as the immigration officer who asks Pacino if he got the mark on his cheek from eating pussy in De Palma’s Scarface (1983); co-starring with, and directed by, Burt Reynolds in Sharky’s Machine (1981) and Stick (1985); an Oscar-nominated role as one of the screen’s funnier Nazis in To Be Or Not To Be (1983); yet another Emmy-nominated role in the 1985 TV adaptation of Death Of A Salesman, starring Dustin Hoffman; Sam Shepard’s Far North (1988); and an Emmy-nominated, Golden Globe-winning role playing President Kennedy’s grandfather in The Kennedys Of Massachusetts (1990). 

Charles Durning was Emmy-nominated for a regular role on Reynold’s TV series Evening Shade and won a Tony for playing Big Daddy in a 1990 all-star revival of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. He appeared in small, key roles in two Coen brothers comedies, The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000); Fred Schepisi’s I.Q. (1994); Jodie Foster’s Home For The Holidays (1995); David Mamet’s State And Main (2000); was Emmy-nominated for guest appearances on Homicide: Life On The Street in 1998 and NCIS (2004); and his last Emmy nomination was in 2008 for playing Denis Leary’s father on Rescue Me. 

Durning, who died Christmas Eve, played Santa Claus five different times.

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