LOS ANGELES (AP) — Charles Durning grew up in poverty, lost five of his nine siblings to disease, barely lived through D-Day and was taken prisoner at the Battle of the Bulge.
His hard life and wartime trauma provided the basis for a prolific 50-year career as a consummate Oscar-nominated character actor, playing everyone from a Nazi colonel to the pope to Dustin Hoffman's would-be suitor in "Tootsie."
Durning, who died Monday at age 89 in New York, got his start as an usher at a burlesque theater in Buffalo, N.Y. When one of the comedians showed up too drunk to go on, Durning took his place. He would recall years later that he was hooked as soon as he heard the audience laughing.
He told The Associated Press in 2008 that he had no plans to stop working. "They're going to carry me out, if I go," he said.
Durning's longtime agent and friend, Judith Moss, told The Associated Press that he died of natural causes in his home in the borough of 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," said a statement from his stepdaughter, Anita Gregory, released Tuesday 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."
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."