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Charles Durning: Famed character actor had hard life, was PoW

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LOS ANGELES -- Charles Durning grew up in poverty, lost five of his nine siblings to disease, barely lived through D-Day and was taken prisoner in the Battle of the Bulge.

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 theatre 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 heard the audience laughing.

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

His longtime agent and friend, Judith Moss, told The Associated Press Durning died of natural causes in his Manhattan home.

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 marvelled that such a heavy-set man could be so nimble in the film's show-stopping song-and-dance number, not realizing Durning had earlier been a dance instructor.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 26, 2012 A14

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