Charles Durning died at age 89 on December 24th, 2012. He was a two-time Oscar nominee, considered one of the best character actors in Hollywood. A longtime friend, Judith Moss, told Associated Press that Charles died in his home in Manhattan. He has played comic scenes and serious roles, as well as starring in Broadway plays.
He is best remembered for his Oscar-nominated role as a corrupt governor in the 1982 film, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
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What you may not know about Charles Durning is that he served in the United States Army during World War II and was a highly decorated soldier, wounded on three different occasions He was drafted at age 20 and assigned as a rifleman with the 398th Infantry Regiment, with the 3rd Army Support, and the 386th Anti-aircraft Artillery (AAA) Battalion. Durning earned the Silver Star and three Purple Heart medals, wounded three times.
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Durning was the only survivor of machine gun fire and shrapnel of his group that hit the beach, and despite suffering from shrapnel wounds he managed to kill seven enemy soldiers.
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The unit was named after its commander, Obersturmbannfuhrer Joachim Peiper. By the time it was over, the unit had killed 362 prisoners of war and 111 Belgian civilians. Peiper survived the war, and after his trial was sent to prison. He lived in France when he was released, but was identified by a former French Resistance member and was attacked and killed at his house. His family was sent to Germany, so was not there when Peiper’s home was attacked. After news of the massacre, a written order came from HQ, 328th US Army Infantry Regiment on December 21, 1944 that:
No SS troops or paratroopers will be taken prisoner but will be shot on sight.
Charles Durning helped identify the bodies of the massacred soldiers who had been preserved in the frozen snow. He had been wounded in the chest during his escape and was then sent to the United States. He remained in Army hospitals to receive treatment for wounds and psychological trauma until his discharge on January 30th, 1946.
Durning’s best films were: The Sting, Dog Day Afternoon, Tootsie, To Be or Not To Be, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. He won a Tony award for his portrayal of Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roofin 1990.
Upon his return from war, severely wounded several times and despite injuries to both legs, he found employment at a nightclub as a ballroom dancer, as well as an instructor at Fred Astaire Studios. With the help of the GI Bill, he enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and started getting roles in regional and touring productions. By the 1960s he was a popular performer on the New York stage in 35 comedies and musicals. His first on-camera part was in a TV episode in 1963 of East Side/West Side. For the next few years he would participate in stage productions, TV guest shots and movies. During this period Charles divorced Carol (1972) and married Mary Ann Amelio, his childhood sweetheart in 1973.