Charles Durning, Oscar-Nominated Character Actor, Dies at 89

The Hollywood Reporter
Charles Durning, Oscar-Nominated Character Actor, Dies at 89

Actor Charles Durning, who starred in The Sting, O Brother Where Art Thou? and as Denis Leary's father on the firefighter drama Rescue Me, died Monday in his New York City home. He was 89 years old.

Durning's longtime agent and friend Judith Moss told The Associated Press that he died Dec. 24 of natural causes.

The character actor is perhaps best known by moviegoers for his role as a comically corrupt governor in 1982's The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, earning him an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. Durning was nominated again in the same category for his role as a Nazi colonal in 1983's To Be or Not to Be.

In 1990, Durning won a Golden Globe Award for the miniseries The Kennedys of Massachusetts. He was nominated for nine Emmy awards throughout his lengthy career, including, most recently, outstanding guest actor in a drama series for Rescue Me.

Durning was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2008, where Joe Mantegna and Jon Voight gave remarks.

According to The New York Times, Durning was born on Feb. 28, 1923, as the ninth of 10 children. His father, a World War I vet, died when Durning was just 12 years old. Five of his sisters died in childhood of smallpox or scarlet fever. After dropping out of school and leaving home as a youth, Durning got his start in show business as a stand-up comic in Buffalo, New York, when the headliner frequently failed to show up.

Come World War II, Durning enlisted in the Army and was eventually awarded a Silver Star for valor and three Purple Hearts. Following his service, he spent months in the hospital being treated for psychological trauma in addition to his gunshot and shrapnel wounds.

Durning then decided to study acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. The school dismissed him after one year (“They basically said you have no talent and you couldn’t even buy a dime’s worth of it if it was for sale,” he told The Times in 1997), and he took to doing various odd jobs instead.

In 1962, Durning got his big break. Joseph Papp, founder of the Public Theater and the New York Shakespeare Festival, invited him to audition and later cast him in 35 plays, many by Shakespeare. It was Durning's performance on stage in That Championship Season that helped him land a film role in 1973's The Sting.