Charles Durning — R.I.P.

Charles Durning, D-Day hero, boxer who once boxed at Madison Square Garden, and multiple award-winning actor has died at age 89:

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 in 1923, in Highland Falls, New York, a town near West Point. His father was unable to work, having lost a leg and been gassed during World War I, so his mother supported the family by washing the uniforms of West Point cadets.

The younger Durning himself would barely survive World War II.

He was among the first wave of U.S. 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 told an interviewer in 1997. “I don’t want you to see me crying.”

Tragedy also stalked other members of his family. Durning was 12 when his father died, and five of his sisters lost their lives to smallpox and scarlet fever.

A high school counselor told him he had no talent for art, languages or math and should learn office skills. But after seeing “King Kong” and some of James Cagney’s films, Durning knew what he wanted to do.

Leaving home at 16, he worked in a munitions factory, on a slag heap and in a barbed-wire factory. When he finally found work as a burlesque theater usher in Buffalo, New York, he studied the comedians’ routines, and when one of them showed up too drunk to go on one night, he took his place.

He would recall years later that he was hooked as soon as heard the audience laughing. He told the AP in 2008 that he had no plans to stop working.

“They’re going to carry me out, if I go,” he said.

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.

Being buried in Arlington National Cemetery is more than fitting for this true American hero. Charles Durning — Rest in Peace

I posted a link to this a couple of years ago… Jon Favreau had a show a few years ago on IFC called “Dinner For Five which was him with four actors having dinner shooting the breeze. This episode is Charles Durning, Burt Reynolds, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Dom DeLuise — it is — straight up — 23 minutes of the best television ever recorded.

7 comments to Charles Durning — R.I.P.

  • JimmyC

    Wow. RIP sir, and infinite thanks for your service, and for all the years of entertainment you brought us. He never got the acclaim he deserved, but there are some unforgettable performances in his career, like the bumbling Nazi official in Mel Brooks’ To Have and Have Not. And I’m glad you mentioned his appearance on Dinner For Five. That was a great episode of a criminally overlooked show.

  • Texacalirose

    I never saw the Favreau show. I’ll watch it now. I can’t think of my favorite Durning flick; he was his best in them all. R.I.P.

  • -fritz-

    I thought his role as the Governor of Texas, the dance number, in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” was brilliant! RIP Mr. Durning, actor and hero!

  • I will always remember him from “Best Little Whore House In Texas.” “Ooooo, I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me, now they don’t, I’m come and gone….”

  • EricP

    Yeah too many great roles, but I’ll go with Tootsie for the moment.

  • Kit

    His role as the Nazi colonel in To Be or Not To Be was classic. “I’ll be vaiting for you!”

    He was also funny in Oh Brother Where Art Thou.

    And let’s not forget his very moving performance as a Medal of Honor recipient in the NCIS episode “Call of Silence”.

  • Matt Helm

    Just saw both Durning and Klugman recently. Watched The Muppet Movie and the Christmas Carol episode of The Odd Couple. RIP to both great actors. And that episode of Dinner For Five was the best of the series, and it was a great series.

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