At age 21, he was the only member of his unit to survive the Omaha Beach "D-Day" invasion on June 6, 1944. He was wounded in the hip and legs three days after he got off the boat. He still carries the bullet in his hip.
Despite the wounds he received in WWII (he was shot in the legs and hip by machine-gun fire), he went on to become a professional dancer and dance teacher. He taught at the Fred Astaire studios and relied upon it when he couldn't find acting work.
During his days as a professional boxer he once fought on the same card as Jack Warden in Madison Square Garden.
Former professional boxer.
Has played Santa Claus five times to date, in It Nearly Wasn't Christmas (1989) (TV), Mrs. Santa Claus (1996) (TV), Elmo Saves Christmas (1996) (V), Mr. St. Nick (2002) (TV), and A Boyfriend for Christmas (2004) (TV).
He is the second youngest of five children. His sibling are James (1915-2000), Clifford (1916-1994), Frances (born 1919) and Gerald Durning (born 1926). His mother, Louise, was a laundress at West Point, and his father, James, was an Irish immigrant who gained U.S. citizenship by joining the army.
His breakthrough role occurred on Broadway in 1972 starring in "That Championship Season" where he was noticed by director George Roy Hill who cast him in his acclaimed Oscar-winning movie The Sting (1973).
His daughter, Jeanine Durning, is a well known New York-based modern dance performer and choreographer.
His first job in the entertainment field was as an usher at a burlesque house. His career officially started as a singer with a band at the age of 16, before going into acting. His first professional play was in Buffalo before he went off to war.
His idol is James Cagney, who also proved he could be tough and dance, too.
His wife, Mary Ann, was his childhood sweetheart.
Served with the 1st Infantry Division in World War II. He landed at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 during the Normandy invasion. He was awarded several decorations, including the Combat Infantryman's Badge, Silver Star Medal, Bronze Star Medal, and three Purple Hearts.
Studied the Martial Arts earlier in his career
Survived the bloody D-Day assault on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. Took him 50 years to talk about his experiences of that day.
Was considered for the role of General Worden in The Dirty Dozen (1967).
Was kicked out of the American Academy of Dramatic Art drama school because they thought he had no talent. Another famous thespian to be booted from the school was Jason Robards.
Was one of a few survivors to the infamous massacre of American POWs by German SS troops at Malmedy, Belgium, during World War II. The surrendering engineering battalion, captured behind enemy lines when the main American forces retreated, were gathered together and brought to a large field. As the German guards backed away from the prisoners, machine guns that were hidden in trucks opened fire on them. Approximately 88 US soldiers died, a good number of them by a single shot at close range through the head, indicating that those who survived the initial volley were subsequently executed. Only about 20 of the group of approximately 100 managed to escape the massacre and make their way to American lines. The incident was re-created in Battle of the Bulge (1965) starring Henry Fonda.
Was trained in classical dance and was for a time in his early career, a dance instructor.
Won Broadway's 1990 Tony Award as Best Actor (Featured Role - Play) for portraying Big Daddy in a revival of Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."