Charles Durning has always been a survivor — and his 100-plus movie credits tell only a small part of his tale.
As a young man, the scrappy character actor worked as an usher at a burlesque theater. He also worked as a professional boxer, elevator operator and even nightclub singer and ballroom dancer.
Shortly after making his theatrical debut in Buffalo, N.Y., Durning was drafted into the Army during World War II as a rifleman and was severely wounded at the D-Day invasion in Normandy. The lone survivor of his unit, he was sent to England to recover. After his physical wounds healed, he was on the front lines at the Battle of the Bulge, where he was wounded and taken prisoner by the Germans. He eventually earned three Purple Hearts and the Silver Star. (His story was woven into an episode of CBS’ “NCIS,” in which he appeared.)
After the war, he returned to dancing and worked as an instructor at the Fred Astaire Studios. Thanks to the GI Bill, he entered the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and began to work onstage around the country and in New York. He made his TV debut in an episode of the 1963-64 CBS series “East Side/West Side” and began to get some movie work. His stock rose in 1972 as a member of the ensemble of Jason Miller’s lauded play “That Championship Season.” Director George Roy Hill saw him in the play and cast him in 1973's Oscar-winning "The Sting" as a police lieutenant on the take.
Later, Durning received a National Board of Review award and a Golden Globe nomination as a hostage negotiator in 1975’s “Dog Day Afternoon.” That same year, he earned his first Emmy nomination for his performance opposite Maureen Stapleton in the drama “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom.”
He received back-to-back best supporting actor Oscar nominations for 1982’s “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” as the toe-tapping governor and as a Nazi officer with lust in his heart in 1983’s “To Be or Not to Be.”
Returning to the theater, Durning won a Tony for the 1990 revival of Tennessee Williams' “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” He also received a Golden Globe in 1990 for his turn as Joseph Kennedy in the miniseries “The Kennedys of Massachusetts” and was a regular and/or semi-regular on “Evening Shade,” “Cybill” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.””
He also has lent his voice to the ribald Fox animated series “Family Guy” as Peter Griffin’s father and played Denis Leary’s ex-firefighter dad on F/X’s “Rescue Me.”
Durning died Dec. 24, 2012, at his home in Manhattan. He was 89.
|1982||Best Supporting Actor||The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas||Nomination|
|1983||Best Supporting Actor||To Be or Not to Be||Nomination|