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.
Mr. Durning, who died Monday at age 89 in New York, got his start as an usher at a burlesque theater in Buffalo. When one of the comedians showed up too drunk to go on, Mr. Durning took his place. He would recall later that he was hooked as soon as he heard the audience laughing.
Mr. Durning's longtime agent and friend, Judith Moss, told the AP that he died of natural causes in his home in Manhattan.
Although he portrayed everyone from blustery public officials to comic foils to put-upon everymen, Mr. 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 showstopping song-and-dance number, not realizing Mr. 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, Mr. 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.
He won a Golden Globe as best supporting TV actor in 1991 for his portrayal of John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald in the TV film The Kennedys of Massachusetts and a Tony in 1990 as Big Daddy in the Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
He had begun his career on stage, getting his first big break when theatrical producer Joseph Papp hired him for the New York Shakespeare Festival.
He went on to work regularly, if fairly anonymously, through the 1960s until his breakout role as a small-town mayor in the Pulitzer- and Tony Award-winning play That Championship Season in 1972.
He made an impression on movie audiences the following year as the crooked cop stalking con men Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the Oscar-winning comedy The Sting.
"I never turned down anything and never argued with any producer or director," Mr. Durning said in 2008, when he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Mr. Durning was born into an Irish family of 10 children in 1923, in Highland Falls, N.Y., 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 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 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. "I don't want you to see me crying."
A high school counselor told him he had no talent for art, languages, or math and should learn office skills. But after seeing King Kong and some of James Cagney's films, Mr. Durning knew what he wanted to do.
Leaving home at 16, he worked in a munitions factory, on a slag heap, and in a barbed-wire factory.
The actor and his first wife had three children before divorcing in 1972. In 1974, he married his high school sweetheart, Mary Ann Amelio.