The two-time Oscar nominee passed away in his native New York on Christmas Eve (24Dec12) – the same day as another beloved TV and film star, Jack Klugman, who was 90.
He died of natural causes at his home in Manhattan.
Durning, a former professional boxer, martial arts expert and dance instructor, was a World War Two hero who survived the infamous massacre of American Prisoners of War by German troops at Malmedy, Belgium. He served with the 1st Infantry Division and was also involved in the Normandy Invasion on Omaha Beach in June, 1944. He was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Silver Star Medal and three Purple Hearts among his many accolades for services to his country.
He picked up his fledgling acting career after the war with a series of stage roles but didn’t land his big movie break until the early 1970s, following a series of acclaimed plays and appearances on 1960’s shows. His first major film role came opposite Robert Redford in The Sting in 1973. He followed that big screen success with a role in Charles Bronson’s western Breakheart Pass two years later.
Durning’s eclectic and varied film career also included credits in Tootsie, The Muppet Movie, North Dallas Forty, Sharky’s Machine, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Dog Day Afternoon, and he earned Oscar nods for his roles in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and Mel Brooks’ comedy To Be Or Not To Be, in which he played a Nazi officer.
Despite his gruff persona and his penchant for playing severe, stern roles, Durning portrayed Santa Claus in five TV movies, including It Nearly Wasn’t Christmas, Mrs. Santa Claus and A Boyfriend for Christmas.
Durning also scooped a Tony Award in 1990 for his portrayal of Big Daddy in a revival of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – not bad for someone who was allegedly kicked out of the American Academy of Dramatic Art drama school for lacking talent!
Paying tribute to his pal on Twitter.com on Christmas Day (25Dec12), Happy Days star Henry Winkler called Durning “the actor’s actor”.
Durning was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2008. According to IMDB.com, he was still making what was his final film, Scavenger Killers, when he passed away.