In the past 24 hours we’ve learned of the passing of two legendary actors, first Jack Klugman’s death announced Monday.
Jack Klugman, the three-time Emmy Award-winning actor best known for his portrayals of slovenly sportswriter Oscar Madison on TV’s “The Odd Couple” and the title role of the murder-solving medical examiner on “Quincy, M.E.,” died Monday at his home in Woodland Hills. He was 90.
Klugman had been in declining health for the last year, his son Adam said.
He had withdrawn from a production of “Twelve Angry Men” at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, N.J., in Marchfor undisclosed health reasons. He had undergone successful surgery for cancer of the larynx in 1989.
This morning we learn of the passing of legendary character actor Charles Durning. While Durning never had the television fame of Klugman, his career was very impressive spanning many decades.
Charles Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday at his home in New York City. He was 89.
Durning’s longtime agent and friend Judith Moss told The Associated Press that he died Monday of natural causes in his home in the borough of Manhattan.
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 marveled that such a heavyset man could be so nimble in the film’s show-stopping song-and-dance number, not realizing Durning had been a dance instructor early in his career. Indeed, he had met his first wife, Carol, when both worked at a dance studio.
The year after “Best Little Whorehouse,” Durning received another Oscar nomination, for his portrayal of a bumbling Nazi officer in Mel Brooks’ “To Be or Not to Be.” He was also nominated for a Golden Globe as the harried police lieutenant in 1975’s “Dog Day Afternoon.”
More impressive than his acting career was Durning’s service in World War II.
Durning’s rugged early life provided ample material on which to base his later portrayals. He was born into an Irish family of 10 children in 1923, in Highland Falls, New York, a town near West Point. His father was unable to work, having lost a leg and been gassed during World War I, so his mother supported the family by washing the uniforms of West Point cadets.
The younger Durning himself would barely survive World War II.
He was among the first wave of U.S. soldiers to land at Normandy during the D-Day invasion and the only member of his Army unit to survive. He killed several Germans and was wounded in the leg. Later he was bayoneted by a young German soldier whom he killed with a rock. He was captured in the Battle of the Bulge and survived a massacre of prisoners.
In later years, he refused to discuss the military service for which he was awarded the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts.
“Too many bad memories,” he told an interviewer in 1997. “I don’t want you to see me crying.”