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Charles Durning Biography

  • Profession: Actor
  • Born: Feb 28, 1923
  • Died: Dec 24, 2012

Before he became an actor, Charles Durning, the son of an Army man, continued in his father's footsteps with valor and distinction, earning a silver star and purple heart in World War II. Durning held down several "joe jobs" -- iron worker, elevator operator, cabbie, waiter, and dance instructor -- until turning to acting in the late 1950s. Fresh from the national tour of The Andersonville Trial, Durning began his long association with [[Performer~P105554~Joseph Papp~josephpapp]] in 1962, distinguishing himself in [[Performer~P314726~Shakespearean~williamshakespeare]] roles. He made his earliest film appearance in Ernest Pintoff's [[Feature~V94388~Harvey Middleman, Fireman~harveymiddlemanfireman]] (1965). Durning's film roles increased in size and importance after his interpretation of a crooked cop in the Oscar-winning [[Feature~V46920~The Sting~thesting]] (1973). He went on to appear in several [[Performer~P108069~Burt Reynolds~burtreynolds]] films, most memorably as the singing governor in [[Feature~V4935~The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas~thebestlittlewhorehouseintexas]] (1982). That performance landed him an Oscar nomination, as did his spin on "Concentration Camp" Erhardt in the 1983 remake of To Be or Not to Be.
In 1975, Durning was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his portrayal of ulcerated police lieutenant Moretti in the theatrical feature [[Feature~V14193~Dog Day Afternoon~dogdayafternoon]] (1975); he finally won that award 15 years later for his work as "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald in the TV miniseries [[Feature~V126722~The Kennedys of Massachusetts~thekennedysofmassachusetts]]. Other notable film roles to his credit include Peter Stockmann in the [[Performer~P48038~Steve McQueen~stevemcqueen]]-produced [[Feature~V90494~An Enemy of the People~anenemyofthepeople]] (1978), [[Performer~P94585~Dustin Hoffman~dustinhoffman]]'s "suitor" in the cross-dressing classic [[Feature~V50420~Tootsie~tootsie]] (1982) (he later co-starred with [[Performer~P94585~Hoffman~dustinhoffman]] in the 1984 stage revival of Death of a Salesman), and the foredoomed Waring Hudsucker in the Coen Brothers' [[Feature~V131165~Hudsucker Proxy~thehudsuckerproxy]] (1994).
On television, Durning played Lt. Gil McGowan on the daytime soap Another World, officer Frank Murphy in The Cop and the Kid (1975), Big Ed Healey in [[Feature~V268270~Captains and the Kings~captainsandthekings]] (1976), Studs' dad in Studs Lonigan (1979), private-eye Oscar Poole in Eye to Eye (1985), the title character in PBS' I Would Be Called John: Pope John XXIII (1987), crooked industrialist Dan Packard (the old [[Performer~P4986~Wallace Beery~wallacebeery]] role) in [[Feature~V13817~Dinner at Eight~dinnerateight]] (1989), and Dr. Harrlan Eldridge in the [[Performer~P108069~Burt Reynolds~burtreynolds]] TV vehicle Evening Shade (1990-1994), an assignment which afforded the far-from-sylph-like Durning his first nude scene.
While his television and film career have continued to be prolific, Durning has also continued to earn acclaim for his stage work. In 1990, he won a Tony Award for his performance as Big Daddy in the Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

He continued to work steadily well into his seventies in a variety of projects including Jodie Foster's dysfunctional family comedy/drama Home for the Holidays, the absurd comedy Spy Hard, and Jerry and Tom. At the beginning of the 20th century he reteamed with the Coen Brothers for O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and was part of the impressive ensemble in David Mamet's State and Main. He was also part of the original cast of the firefighter drama series Rescue Me. Durning died at age 89 in late December 2012, two months before his 90th birthday. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi