( b. Feb 28, 1923 Highland Falls, New York, USA - d. Dec 24, 2012 New York, New York, USA ) Male
The stars were hardly aligned for Mr. Durning to become a famous actor. He was born into poverty, the son of Irish-Catholic immigrants. Five of his nine siblings died during childhood of smallpox or scarlet fever.
He was drafted into the army in 1944, and participated in the D-Day landing of Normandy, landing on Omaha Beach. For his valor and the wounds, he was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star Medal and three Purple Heart medals. Despite his many injuries, to the legs, hand and head, he was sent back to the front and took part in the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944. He and his company were captured and ruthlessly shot by the Germans in an infamous massacre. Mr. Durning was one of the few to survive. Hit again, this time in the chest, he was returned to the States to recover.
Following an aimless decade, he turned to acting, but his progress was slow, and he took whatever odd jobs he could find. (On the side, he boxed a bit.) In 1962, Joe Papp took a chance on him and cast him in a bit part in a Shakespeare play. He played myriad clowns and anonymous citizens in subsequent New York Shakespeare Festival productions, more than 30 roles in all, but didn't break out as a performer until he was cast as one of the five Scranton friends reliving the past glory of their bygone basketball championship in Jason Miller's That Championship Season. The play debuted Off-Broadway in 1972 and then transferred to Broadway, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Soon, Mr. Durning was breaking into film. He played attention-getting roles as cops in both the Depression-era comedy "The Sting" (1973)—director George Hill had seen him in That Championship Season—and the contemporary New York heist film "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975). In both, he displayed an easy ability for lending characters integrity, warmth, humor and grit in equal measure. Mr. Durning could play scoundrels with a mitigating humanity, and avuncular father figures who had a sneaky edge. Every portrayal, however, was somewhat likable and humane.
He reached a sort of career high in the early '80s, achieving a seeming ubiquity in film. He played Jessica Lange's father, who has designs on Dustin Hoffman's cross-dressing title character, in the smash hit "Toostie"; and was nominated for Academy Awards as both the gleefully corrupt governor in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and a comic Nazi colonel in the Mel Brooks remake of "To Be or Not To Be." Other film credits included "True Confessions," "The Muppet Movie," "Sharkey's Machine," "The Man With One Red Shoe," "Tough Guys," "Far North," "Dick Tracy," "I.Q.," "North Dallas Forty," "One Fine Day," "State and Main," "Home for the Holidays" and the Coen Brothers' "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"
Newly flush with film fame, he returned to Broadway in 1990 to play Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, winning a Tony Award. He further starred in two productions of Tony Randall's National Actors Theatre—revivals of Inherit the Wind (opposite George C. Scott) and The Gin Game (opposite Julie Harris). In the latter, he got the opportunity to display his little-known skills as a dancer. "Dancing came easy for me," he once said. "Acting came hard." He played a wily ex-President in a 2000 staging of Gore Vidal's The Best Man.
A final New York stage performance came with the 2005 Lincoln Center Theater premiere of Wendy Wasserstein's final play Third, in which Mr. Durning played the physically and mentally failing father of the play's professor protagonist, played by Dianne Wiest.
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