Durning, a decorated veteran of
A seasoned former member of Joseph Papp's
Durning went on to appear in movies such as "The Hindenburg," "The Choirboys," "The Muppet Movie," "North Dallas Forty," "Starting Over," "True Confessions," "Sharkey's Machine," "Dick Tracy" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"
As a supporting actor, he was nominated for two
His TV credits include "Queen of the Stardust Ballroom," the landmark 1975 made-for-television musical in which he played the mailman who reaches out to
As the small-town doctor on "Evening Shade," the 1990-94 series starring
More recently, Durning played the father of
Durning's first love was the stage, which included his Tony Award-winning performance as Big Daddy in the 1990 Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."
"If I had my druthers, I would do only stage work," he told the Asbury Park Press of New Jersey in 2000 during a break in rehearsals for "Glengarry Glen Ross" in Princeton and only two months after completing a tour of "The Gin Game" with
"You make the money in movies and TV so you can do theater," said Durning. "I do a play a year … somewhere."
Born Feb. 28, 1923, in Highland Falls, N.Y., Durning was one of 10 children. Five of his sisters died of
With his mother struggling to support her children by working in the laundry at the
He later worked as an usher in a burlesque theater in Buffalo, N.Y., where the laughs he generated when he filled in for a drunken comedian helped spur his desire to perform.
For his service, he was awarded three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star.
After the war, Durning underwent a long period of recovery from his physical and psychological wounds.
"I'd like to have a decade of my life back," he said in a 1994 interview with the
"It was very emotional experience for me," Durning told the Associated Press at the time. "I had to stop a couple of times; I couldn't go on."
Durning, who completed high school after the war, once said that he always wanted to act.
"I became enamored of acting the first time I saw [the 1933 movie] 'King Kong,'" he told the Washington Post, adding that when he first saw
A postwar stint studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, however, did not bode well for his future as an actor.
"They told me, 'You're too short, too fat and have no talent,'" Durning said in a 1977 interview with The Times. "I was a dreadfully shy person then and this shook me to the foundations. I thought they knew what they were talking about."
To support himself, he worked a variety of jobs, including taxi driver, construction worker, plumber's helper, elevator operator and night watchman on the New York docks. He also taught ballroom dancing off and on for about five years.
In 1960 he made his professional acting debut as a member of the road company of "The Andersonville Trial."
In 2008, the same year Durning received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the
Durning, who was married twice, is survived by three children: Michele, Douglas and Jeanine.
His family plans a private memorial service at Arlington National Cemetery.