- - Tuesday, December 25, 2012

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, N.Y. When one of the comedians showed up too drunk to go on, Mr. Durning took his place. He would recall years later that he was hooked as soon as 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.

Mr. 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.

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 show-stopping 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.

CALIFORNIA

West Coast girds for more tsunami debris from Japan

LOS ANGELES — Volunteers who patrol California beaches for plastic, cigarette butts and other litter will be on the lookout this winter for flotsam from last year’s monstrous tsunami off Japan’s coast.

Armed with index-size cards, beachcombers will log water bottles, buoys, fishing gear and other possessions that might have sailed across the Pacific to the 1,100-mile shoreline.

The March 2011 disaster washed about 5 million tons of debris into the sea. Most of that sank, leaving an estimated 1½ million tons afloat. No one knows how much debris — strewn across an area three times the size of the United States — is still adrift.

Tsunami flotsam has already touched the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii this year. The West Coast is bracing for more sightings in the coming months as seasonal winds and coastal currents tend to drive marine wreckage ashore.

Like the past winter, scientists expect the bulk of the debris to end up in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. Last week, the Coast Guard spotted a massive dock that possibly came from Japan on a wilderness beach in Washington state.

Given recent storm activity, Northern California could see “scattered and intermittent” episodes, said Peter Murphy, a marine debris expert at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which recently received a $5 million donation from Japan to track and remove tsunami debris.

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