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Charles Durning dies at 89

  • FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 file photo, in Los Angeles file photo, actor Charles Durning accepts the life achievement award at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 file photo, in Los Angeles file photo, actor Charles Durning accepts the life achievement award at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • FILE - In this Thursday, July 31, 2008 file photo, actor Charles Durning smiles during ceremonies honoring him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

    FILE - In this Thursday, July 31, 2008 file photo, actor Charles Durning smiles during ceremonies honoring him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

  • FILE - In this Thursday, July 31, 2008 file photo, actor Charles Durning smiles during ceremonies honoring him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

    FILE - In this Thursday, July 31, 2008 file photo, actor Charles Durning smiles during ceremonies honoring him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

  • FILE - In this Dec. 11, 2001 file photo, actors Charles Durning, left, James Garner, center, and James Karen rehearse on the set of "First Monday" at the Sunset Gower Studios in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Lucy Nicholson)

    FILE - In this Dec. 11, 2001 file photo, actors Charles Durning, left, James Garner, center, and James Karen rehearse on the set of "First Monday" at the Sunset Gower Studios in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Lucy Nicholson)

  • FILE - In this Dec. 11, 2001 file photo, actors Charles Durning, left, James Garner, center, and James Karen rehearse on the set of "First Monday" at the Sunset Gower Studios in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Lucy Nicholson)

    FILE - In this Dec. 11, 2001 file photo, actors Charles Durning, left, James Garner, center, and James Karen rehearse on the set of "First Monday" at the Sunset Gower Studios in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Lucy Nicholson)

  • FILE - In this Saturday, March 3, 1984 file photo, from left, actors Charles Durning, Eliott Gould and Screen Actors Guild President Ed Asner take a break before the filming of the 50th Anniversary Special celebrating the guild in Santa Monica, Calif. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Heung Shing Liu)

    FILE - In this Saturday, March 3, 1984 file photo, from left, actors Charles Durning, Eliott Gould and Screen Actors Guild President Ed Asner take a break before the filming of the 50th Anniversary Special celebrating the guild in Santa Monica, Calif. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Heung Shing Liu)

  • FILE - In this Saturday, March 3, 1984 file photo, from left, actors Charles Durning, Eliott Gould and Screen Actors Guild President Ed Asner take a break before the filming of the 50th Anniversary Special celebrating the guild in Santa Monica, Calif. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Heung Shing Liu)

    FILE - In this Saturday, March 3, 1984 file photo, from left, actors Charles Durning, Eliott Gould and Screen Actors Guild President Ed Asner take a break before the filming of the 50th Anniversary Special celebrating the guild in Santa Monica, Calif. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Heung Shing Liu)

  • FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 file photo, actor Charles Durning accepts the life achievement award from presenter Burt Reynolds, left, at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 file photo, actor Charles Durning accepts the life achievement award from presenter Burt Reynolds, left, at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 file photo, actor Charles Durning accepts the life achievement award from presenter Burt Reynolds, left, at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 file photo, actor Charles Durning accepts the life achievement award from presenter Burt Reynolds, left, at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 photo, Charles Durning holds his life achievement award at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

    In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 photo, Charles Durning holds his life achievement award at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

  • In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 photo, Charles Durning holds his life achievement award at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

    In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 photo, Charles Durning holds his life achievement award at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

  • FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 file photo, in Los Angeles file photo, actor Charles Durning accepts the life achievement award at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 file photo, in Los Angeles file photo, actor Charles Durning accepts the life achievement award at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 file photo, in Los Angeles file photo, actor Charles Durning accepts the life achievement award at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
  • FILE - In this Thursday, July 31, 2008 file photo, actor Charles Durning smiles during ceremonies honoring him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
  • FILE - In this Thursday, July 31, 2008 file photo, actor Charles Durning smiles during ceremonies honoring him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
  • FILE - In this Dec. 11, 2001 file photo, actors Charles Durning, left, James Garner, center, and James Karen rehearse on the set of "First Monday" at the Sunset Gower Studios in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Lucy Nicholson)
  • FILE - In this Dec. 11, 2001 file photo, actors Charles Durning, left, James Garner, center, and James Karen rehearse on the set of "First Monday" at the Sunset Gower Studios in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Lucy Nicholson)
  • FILE - In this Saturday, March 3, 1984 file photo, from left, actors Charles Durning, Eliott Gould and Screen Actors Guild President Ed Asner take a break before the filming of the 50th Anniversary Special celebrating the guild in Santa Monica, Calif. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Heung Shing Liu)
  • FILE - In this Saturday, March 3, 1984 file photo, from left, actors Charles Durning, Eliott Gould and Screen Actors Guild President Ed Asner take a break before the filming of the 50th Anniversary Special celebrating the guild in Santa Monica, Calif. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Heung Shing Liu)
  • FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 file photo, actor Charles Durning accepts the life achievement award from presenter Burt Reynolds, left, at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
  • FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 file photo, actor Charles Durning accepts the life achievement award from presenter Burt Reynolds, left, at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
  • In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 photo, Charles Durning holds his life achievement award at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
  • In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 photo, Charles Durning holds his life achievement award at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
  • FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 file photo, in Los Angeles file photo, actor Charles Durning accepts the life achievement award at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

His hard life and wartime trauma provided the basis for a prolific 50-year career as a consummate Oscar-nominated character actor, playing everyone from a Nazi colonel to the pope to Dustin Hoffman’s would-be suitor in “Tootsie.”

Durning, who died Monday at age 89 in New York, got his start as an usher at a burlesque theater in Buffalo, N.Y. When one of the comedians showed up too drunk to go on, Durning took his place. He would recall years later that he was hooked as soon as he heard the audience laughing.

He told The Associated Press in 2008 that he had no plans to stop working. “They’re going to carry me out, if I go,” he said.

Durning’s longtime agent and friend, Judith Moss, told The Associated Press that he died of natural causes in his home in the borough of Manhattan.

Although he portrayed everyone from blustery public officials to comic foils to put-upon everymen, Durning may be best remembered by movie audiences for his Oscar-nominated, over-the-top role as a comically corrupt governor in 1982’s “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”

Many critics marveled that such a heavyset man could be so nimble in the film’s show-stopping song-and-dance number, not realizing Durning had been a dance instructor early in his career. Indeed, he had met his first wife, Carol, when both worked at a dance studio.

The year after “Best Little Whorehouse,” Durning received another Oscar nomination, for his portrayal of a bumbling Nazi officer in Mel Brooks’ “To Be or Not to Be.” He was also nominated for a Golden Globe as the harried police lieutenant in 1975’s “Dog Day Afternoon.”

He won a Golden Globe as best supporting TV actor in 1991 for his portrayal of John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald in the TV film “The Kennedys of Massachusetts” and a Tony in 1990 as Big Daddy in the Broadway revival of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

He made an impression on movie audiences as the crooked cop stalking con men Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the Oscar-winning comedy “The Sting.”

Dozens of notable portrayals followed. He was the would-be suitor of Dustin Hoffman, posing as a female soap opera star in “Tootsie;” the infamous seller of frog legs in “The Muppet Movie;” and Chief Brandon in Warren Beatty’s “Dick Tracy.” He played Santa Claus in four different movies made for television and was the pope in the TV film “I Would be Called John: Pope John XXIII.”

Durning’s rugged early life provided ample material on which to base his later portrayals. He was born into an Irish family of 10 children in 1923, in Highland Falls, N.Y., a town near West Point. His father was unable to work, having lost a leg and been gassed during World War I, so his mother supported the family by washing the uniforms of West Point cadets.

The younger Durning himself would barely survive World War II.

He was among the first wave of U.S. soldiers to land at Normandy during the D-Day invasion and the only member of his Army unit to survive. He killed several Germans and was wounded in the leg. Later he was bayoneted by a young German soldier whom he killed with a rock. He was captured in the Battle of the Bulge and survived a massacre of prisoners.

In later years, he refused to discuss the military service for which he was awarded the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts.

“Too many bad memories,” he told an interviewer in 1997. “I don’t want you to see me crying.”

Tragedy also stalked other members of his family. Durning was 12 when his father died, and five of his sisters lost their lives to smallpox and scarlet fever.

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