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Lifestyle

December 26, 2012

Charles Durning, actor known for versatility, dies at 89

Charles Durning, who was often called the ultimate character actor because of his ability to inhabit almost any role, from everyday workingman to politician to priest, and who saw some of the fiercest combat in Europe during World War II, died Monday at his home in New York City. He was 89.

His agent, Judith Moss, confirmed his death to the Associated Press but did not disclose the cause.

Durning appeared in almost 200 movies, numerous television shows and dozens of plays, portraying a range of characters from Shakespearean fools to crooked cops to military veterans haunted by the past. He was nominated for two Academy Awards and nine Emmy Awards and won a Tony Award for his performance as Big Daddy in a 1990 Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams's "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

But the short, thick-bodied Durning was virtually unknown until he was almost 50. He got his major break in Jonathan Miller's 1972 Broadway play about the aging members of a high school basketball team, "That Championship Season." A year later, he appeared as a corrupt police officer in the con-man caper movie "The Sting," with Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

By then, Durning had accumulated a lifetime of real-world experience. He had held dozens of menial jobs and, while serving as an Army infantryman, was among the first soldiers to land on the Normandy beaches during the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944.

He was wounded in battle three times, captured by Nazi troops and escaped the most deadly massacre of U.S. prisoners during the war. He later helped liberate the Buchenwald concentration camp.

It took years for Durning to recover from his physical and psychological wounds.

"It's your mind that's hard to heal," he told The Washington Post in 1994. "There are many horrifying secrets in the depths of our souls that we don't want anyone to know about."

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