Revered character actor Charles Durning passed away at the age of 89 in New York on Monday. Durning got his start in the business working as an usher at a burlesque theater in Buffalo, New York. When one comedian arrived too drunk to go on stage, Durning took his spot and enjoyed the laughter from the audience.
Judith Moss, the longtime friend and agent of Durning, told the Associated Press that the actor passed away from natural causes at his home in Manhattan.
“Not only was Charlie a World War II hero but he was also a hero to his family. Charlie loved Christmas and if he could have chosen a time to pass, he would have chosen this day,” Anita Gregory, Durning’s stepdaughter said in a statement. The statement was released by Ana Martinez, spokeswoman for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
“He loved that holiday and played Santa Claus many times in films and TV shows,” Gregory said. “Charlie lived the spirit of Christmas each and every day of his life. He taught me to believe that nothing was impossible. He brought joy and a smile to everyone’s life.”
Durning almost did not survive World War II. He was part of the first wave during the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. He was the only member of his unit to survive the invasion. Durning was wounded in the leg. During the Battle of the Bulge, Durning was captured and then survived a massacre of prisoners. Later in his life, Durning would not speak about his military time. He received the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts for his service.
“Too many bad memories,” he told an interviewer in 1997. “I don’t want you to see me crying.”
When Durning was young, he lost his father at the age of 12 and he also lost five of his sisters to smallpox and scarlet fever. Durning is survived by Gregory and his children Michele, Douglas and Jeannine. He is going to be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.