Charles Durning was an American film, television, and stage actor. He had a very prolific career, appearing in dozens of films, TV series, and plays. He was nominated for several Academy Awards and Primetime Emmy Awards.
Charles Edward Durning was born on February 28, 1923, in the village of Highland Falls, New York. His father was James Edward Durning, an Irish immigrant. His mother was Louise Leonard Durning, a cleaning lady at the West Point Military Academy. Five of his sisters died during childhood from smallpox and scarlet fever. He had one surviving sisters, named Frances. He had three surviving brothers, named James, Clifford, and Gerald.
In 1943, Durning joined the U. S. Army and fought in World War II. He reached the rank of Private First Class and was discharged in 1946. He earned the Purple Heart Medal, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the World War II Victory Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the American Campaign Medal, and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal. He also earned the Honorable Service Lapel Pin, the Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Expert Badge with Rifle Bar.
In 1951, Durning worked as an usher in a burlesque theater. One night, the producer hired him to replace an actor who had gotten drunk. That marked the beginning of his acting career. Over the next decade, he appeared in more than 50 off-Broadway plays and stock company productions. He then captured the attention of theatrical producer Joseph Papp. In 1961, he took part in more than 30 plays that were part of the Shakespeare Festival. His first big role on Broadway was in the 1965 musical Drat the Cat.
He then appeared in the plays Indians, The Happy Time, and Pousse Café. In the 1970s, he starred in Knock Knock, In the Boom Boom Room, That Championship Season, Streamers, On Golden Pond, and The au Pair Man. In the 1990s, he appeared in The Gin Game, Inherit the Wind, The Best Man, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. One of his final plays was Third, performed at the Lincoln Center’s Mitzy E. Newhouse Theatre in 2005.
In 1962, Durning played a soldier in the film The Password is Courage. He then appeared in the comedy film Harvey Middleman, Fireman and the crime film Stiletto. After that, he took part in the drama films I Walk the Line and The Pursuit of Happiness. In 1972, he appeared in the films Dealing, Sisters, and Doomsday Voyage. In 1973, he starred in the comedy Deadhead Miles and the crime film The Sting. He then starred in the black comedy-drama film The Front Page.
In 1975, he starred in the TV film Queen of the Stardust Ballroom and the noir crime drama Dog Day Afternoon. These two films became some of his best-known works. Later that year, he appeared in The Hindenburg and Breakheart Pass. Over the next few years, he appeared in the comedies Harry and Walter Go to New York, The Choirboys, Tilt, The Muppet Movie, Starting Over, and North Dallas Forty. He starred in the American-German thriller Twilight’s Last Gleaming, as well as the drama film The Greek Tycoon and An Enemy of the People. He also appeared in the horror films The Fury and When a Stranger Calls.
In 1980, Durning depicted Russell Oswald in the historical TV film Attica. He then starred in the TV films Crisis at Central High and Dark Night of the Scarecrow. He appeared in the comedy-drama Die Laughing, the sci-fi film The Final Countdown, the crime film True Confessions, and the thriller Sharky’s Machine. In 1982, he played a governor in the musical comedy The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and it became one of his best-known roles.
In 1983, he played Colonel Ehrhardt in the war comedy To Be or Not to Be. Around this time, he also appeared in Two of a Kind, Tootsie, Scarface, Stick, Mister Roberts, Mass Appeal, and The Man with One Red Shoe. He starred in the TV films Death of a Salesman, The Man Who Broke a Thousand Chains, Case Closed, and Dinner at Eight. By the end of the 1980s, he appeared in films such as Tough Guys, Meatballs, Happy New Year, A Tiger’s Tale, Cop, Case Closed, Cat Chaser, and Brenda Starr. In the 1990s, he starred in the comedies Dick Tracy, The Hudsucker Proxy, The Last Supper, The Grass Harp, Home for the Holidays, and Spy Hard. In 1996, he voiced Archie the Archelon in the animated film The Land Before Time.
After that, Durning appeared in the films One Fine Day, Shelter, Jerry and Tom, Lake Boat, Very Mean Men, State and Main, and The Last Producer. He starred in the TV films Mrs Santa Claus, Hard Time, and Detective. He had small roles in many films, such as Turn of Faith, The Last Man Club, Dead Canaries, River’s End, and Resurrection. He remained active even in his later years, appearing in multiple films every year. He starred in the comedies Dirty Deeds, Unbeatable Harold, Forget About It, The Golden Boys, and A Bunch of Amateurs. His final role was Santa Claus in the film Bleeding Hearts, which was released three years after his death.
Durning made his TV debut in 1972 in the soap opera Another World. He then appeared in an episode of the sitcom All in the Family. In 1975, he took the lead role in the short-lived series The Cop and the Kid. He then starred in the detective series Barnaby Jones and the historical series Captains and the Kings. After that, he appeared in the anthology series Great Performances, American Playhouse, Amazing Stories, and Tall Tales & Legends.
From 1990 to 1994, he had one of the lead roles in the sitcom Evening Shade. He took the role of John Fitzgerald in the miniseries The Kennedys of Massachusetts. He appeared in Elmo Saves Christmas, Early Edition, and The Water Engine. He had recurring roles in the series Family Guy, Everybody Loves Raymond, The Practice, Orleans, Cybil, and Now and Again. He later appeared in First Monday, Touched by an Angel, The Hoop Life, and Early Edition. By the end of his career, he starred in the series Monk, NCIS, Everwood, and Rescue Me.
Durning earned two nominations for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his roles in To Be or Not to Be and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. He earned Emmy nominations for Queen of the Stardust Ballroom, Attica, Death of a Salesman, Captains and the Kings, Evening Shade, Homicide, Rescue Me, and NCIS. He won a Golden Globe Award, a National Board of Review Award, a Florida Film Critics Circle Award, and a SAG Lifetime Achievement Award. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.
In 1959, Durning married a woman named Carole Doughty. They had a son named Douglas, and two daughters named Michelle and Jeanine. They divorced in 1972 and Durning married Mary Ann Amelio in 1974. In 2010, he and his second wife legally separated without divorcing.
What did Charles Durning die of?
Charles Durning died of natural causes at the age of 89. He passed away on December 24, 2012, in his home in Manhattan. His body was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Charles Durning had a net worth of about $10 million.