* Wounded three times, decorated for valor in World War Two
* Won Tony Award, nominated for nine Emmys, two Oscars
* Got career started with Joseph Papp's Shakespeare troupe
NEW YORK, Dec. 25 Charles Durning, a World War
Two hero who became one of Hollywood's top character actors in
films like "The Sting," "Tootsie" and "The Best Little
Whorehouse in Texas," has died, a New York City funeral home
said on Tuesday. He was 89.
Durning, who was nominated for nine Emmys for his television
work as well as two Academy Awards, died of natural causes at
his New York City home on Monday, his agent told People
magazine. Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in Manhattan
confirmed Durning's death to Reuters.
Durning also was an accomplished stage actor and once said
he preferred doing plays because of the immediacy they offered.
He gained his first substantial acting experience through the
New York Shakespeare Festival starting in the early 1960s and
won a Tony Award for playing Big Daddy in a 1990 Broadway
revival of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."
Durning did not start amassing film and TV credits until he
was almost 40 but went on to appear in more than 100 movies, in
addition to scores of TV shows.
Durning's first national exposure came playing a crooked
policeman who gets conned by Robert Redford in the 1973 movie
"The Sting." He got the role after impressing director George
Roy Hill with his work in the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning
Broadway play "That Championship Season."
Durning had everyday looks - portly, thinning hair and a
bulbous nose - and was a casting director's delight, equally
adept at comedy and drama.
Durning was nominated for supporting-actor Oscars for
playing a Nazi in the 1984 Mel Brooks comedy "To Be or Not to
Be" and the governor in the musical "The Best Little Whorehouse
in Texas" in 1983. "Whorehouse" was one of 13 movies Durning
made with friend Burt Reynolds, as well as Reynolds' 1990s TV
sitcom "Evening Shade."
Other notable Durning movie roles included a cop in "Dog Day
Afternoon," a man who falls in love with Dustin Hoffman's
cross-dressing character in "Tootsie," "Dick Tracy," "Home for
the Holidays," "The Muppet Movie," "North Dallas Forty" and "O
Brother Where Art Thou?"
He was nominated for Emmys for the TV series "Rescue Me,"
"NCIS," "Homicide: Life on the Street," "Captains and the Kings"
and "Evening Shade," as well as the specials "Death of a
Salesman," "Attica" and "Queen of the Stardust Ballroom."
Durning was a fan of Jimmy Cagney and after returning from
harrowing service in World War Two he tried singing, dancing,
and stand-up comedy. He attended the American Academy of
Dramatic Arts until he was kicked out.
"They basically said you have no talent and you couldn't
even buy a dime's worth of it if it was for sale," Durning told
The New York Times.
He worked a number of make-do jobs - cab driver, dance
instructor, doorman, dishwasher, telegram deliveryman, bridge
painter, tourist guide - all while waiting for a shot at an
acting career. Occasional stage roles led him to Joseph Papp,
the founder of the New York Shakespeare Festival, who became his
"Joe said to me once, 'If you hadn't been an actor, you
would have been a murderer,'" Durning told the Times. "I don't
know what that meant. I hope he was kidding. He said I couldn't
do anything else but act."
Durning grew up in Highland Falls, New York, and was 12
years old when his Irish-born father died of the effects of
mustard gas exposure in World War One. He had nine siblings and
five of his sisters died of smallpox or scarlet fever - three
within a two-week period.
Durning was part of the U.S. force that landed at Omaha
Beach during the D-Day invasion in June 1944. A few days later
he was shot in the hip - he said he carried the bullet in his
body thereafter - and after six months of recovery was sent to
the Battle of the Bulge.
Durning, who was wounded twice more, was captured and was
one of the few survivors of the Malmedy massacre when German
troops opened fire on dozens of American prisoners. In addition
to three Purple Heart medals for his wounds, Durning was
presented the Silver Star for valor.
At an observation of the 60th anniversary of D-Day in
Washington, Durning told of the terror he felt and carnage he
saw when hitting the beach on D-Day. He said he had to jettison
his weapon and gear in order to swim ashore and saw mortally
wounded comrades offering themselves as human shields.
"I forget a lot of stuff now but I still wake up once in a
while and it's still there," he said. "I can't count how many of
my buddies are in the cemetery at Normandy."
Durning was married twice and had three children.
(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst; Writing by Bill Trott; Editing
by Eric Beech)