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Character actor Charles Durning dies at 89

By Greg Goodsell
December 26th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Charles Durning was the blustery, big man audiences enjoyed in countless films. He was the stern family patriarch who took a liking to Dustin Hoffman in drag in "Tootsie." He was the irascible sheriff in "The Best Little whorehouse in Texas." He played the corrupt cop in "The Sting." Durning, whose showbiz career spanned the 20th Century, has died. He was 89.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A decorated World War II veteran, Durning appeared everywhere from the burlesque stage and theater to television and film, playing roles that were as diverse as U.S. society itself.

Durning 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.

Durning found his calling as an actor rather late in life. Born in Highland Falls, New York, on February 28, 1923, he left home at age 16 and later enlisted in the Army. Landing at Normandy on D-Day and fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, Durning received the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts.

After the military, he worked odd jobs that ranged from professional boxing to teaching ballroom dancing to ushering in a burlesque house. Filling in for a comic who failed to show at the last minute, Durning caught the acting bug.

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

Some of Durning's other best-known roles included his Tony-winning performance as Big Daddy in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," a tough gumshoe in "When A Stranger Calls," a beleaguered police officer in "Dog Day Afternoon," Doc Hopper, the owner of a frog leg restaurant in "The Muppet Movie" and the Southern politician dancing on stage with George Clooney's Soggy Bottom Boys in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

"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," Durning's family said in a statement.

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