Two-time Academy Award nominee Charles Durning, who received Tony and Drama Desk Awards for his performance as Big Daddy in the 1990 Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, has died in New York at age 89.
A prolific character actor, Durning was at home both on stage and screen, starring in over 140 films and dozens of productions on and off-Broadway. Among his many film credits are The Sting, Tootsie, True Confessions, O Brother, Where Art Thou, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and To Be or Not to Be, receiving Oscar nominations for the latter pair. Television appearances include Evening Shade, First Monday, Everybody Loves Raymond, Rescue Me, and Family Guy. Through his career, Durning racked up a total of nine Emmy nominations.
Born the ninth of ten children in Highland Falls, New York on February 28, 1923, Durning, a World War II veteran, was in the first wave of troops to arrive at Normandy on D-Day and the only surviving member of his Army unit. In Belgium, he killed a German soldier with a rock after getting stabbed eight times in hand-to-hand combat. After getting captured in the Battle of the Bulge, he survived a massacre of prisoners by Germans forces. For his service, Durning was the recipient of three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star for valor. Following the War, he found work as a ballroom dancer and a dance instructor at the Fred Astaire Studios.
Durning made his Broadway debut as an understudy in Jean Anouilh's short-lived 1964 comedy, Poor Bitos. It wasn't until his 1972 performance as small town mayor George Sikowski in That Championship Season that Durning had a hit. It also won him the 1972 Drama Desk Award for outstanding featured actor in a play. Other 1970s stage appearances include David Rabe's Boom Boom Room, Hugh Leonard's The au Pair Man, and Jules Feiffer's Knock Knock.
After a 14 year absence, he returned to Broadway in 1990 with his acclaimed, award-winning performance in Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and followed it up in 1996 with Inherit the Wind where he starred opposite George C. Scott, The Gin Game in 1997 with Julie Harris, and the 2000 revival of Gore Vidal's The Best Man, in which he was featured alongside an ensemble cast of Spalding Gray, Chris Noth, and Elizabeth Ashley. In 2002, he was a member of the starry National Actors Theatre revival of Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, with Al Pacino, Tony Randall, Chazz Palminteri, John Goodman, and others. Durning received a 2006 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Featured Actor for Wendy Wasserstein's play Third. It would mark his last appearance on the New York stage.
He is survived by his children, Michele, Douglas, and Jeannine.
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