‘King of Character Actors’ Charles Durning dies

Posted at 6:38 AM, Dec 26, 2012

CNN Charles Durning

By Tom Cohen

(CNN) — You may not know his name, but anyone who watches movies and television knows the squat, tough-faced character actor Charles Durning, who died on Christmas Eve, according to his family.

The 89-year-old decorated World War II veteran had an award-winning career that spanned 20th Century entertainment, from the burlesque stage and theater to television and film, playing roles as diverse as society itself.

Durning was the gruff father smitten by Dustin Hoffman’s female impersonation of “Tootsie,” the Southern politician dancing on stage with George Clooney’s Soggy Bottom Boys in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and the corrupt cop caught up in the “big con” by Paul Newman and Robert Redford in “The Sting.”

He won Tony and Golden Globe awards and was nominated for Academy Awards two times as a supporting actor. He also received nine Emmy nominations and was honored in 2007 with a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild.

Born in Highland Falls, New York, on February 28, 1923, Durning became an actor relatively late.

According to his TV Guide biography, Durning left home at age 16 and later enlisted in the Army. Durning landed on Normandy beach on D-Day and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, receiving the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts.

He worked odd jobs that ranged from professional boxing to teaching ballroom dancing to ushering in a burlesque house, where he got his start on stage by once filling in for a comic who failed to show up, the actor often recalled.

He also attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he trained with Jason Robards, Colleen Dewhurst and others.

Some of Durning’s other best-known roles included his Tony-winning performance as Big Daddy in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, a complicit sheriff in “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”, a beleaguered police officer in “Dog Day Afternoon” and as Doc Hopper, the owner of a frog leg restaurant in “The Muppet Movie.”

Durning’s family, in a statement issued Tuesday, said, “Not only was Charlie a World War II hero but he was also a hero to his family. Charlie loved Christmas and if he could have chosen a time to pass, he would have chosen this day.”