R.I.P. Ernest Borgnine (1917-2012)

“Hiya! I’m sure you kids know me best as Sergeant Fatso Judson in ‘From Here to Eternity,’ ” Ernest Borgnine once quipped on a memorable guest turn on “The Simpsons.” But he was that and so much more. An Oscar-winning actor who delivered a number of memorable film roles, and one of the all too rare living connections to the golden age of Hollywood cinema, Ernest Borgnine sadly passed away on Sunday at the age of 95.

Unlike most actors of the era who started young, and worked their way up through the system, Borgnine got his start relatively “late,” giving the profession a try in his early 30s, when he came back from serving in the Navy in World War II. After starting on the stage, and landing a few roles on both the big and small screen, Borgnine scored his big break, landing the aforementioned role in “From Here To Eternity,” and it was that gruff turn that became a calling card of sorts. He nabbed a small role in Nicholas Ray‘s “Johnny Guitar,” and bigger parts in Robert Aldrich‘s “Vera Cruz” and John Sturges‘ “Bad Day At Black Rock.”

However, it was the decision to use that burly demeanor in a wholly different context that won Borgnine some of the biggest acclaim of his career. Produced by Burt Lancaster and Harold Hecht, Borgnine nabbed the lead role in the film adaptation of the hit play “Marty” written by Paddy Chayefsky (after Rod Steiger turned down the opportunity to reprise the part). In the film, Borgnine plays the titular character, an optimistic working class Italian-American, living in Brooklyn, who has resigned himself to bachelorhood, and unexpectedly falls in love. The film was a smash, winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and a handful of Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director for Delbert Mann, Best Screenplay and Best Actor for Borgnine.

And while “Marty” may have earned him the most critical plaudits, it was the hit TV comedy “McHale’s Navy” (spun off the movie of the same name) that put him in the homes across the nation (and landed him his first Emmy nomination). And while that show wound down after four seasons, he easily slid back into films with roles in “The Dirty Dozen,” “The Wild Bunch,” “Willard,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” “The Flight Of The Phoenix,” “Escape From New York” and more. And Borgnine never stopped working, playing the recurring Mermaid Man on “SpongeBob SquarePants,” guesting on the last episode of “ER” (which earned him another Emmy nomination) and featuring in the Hallmark movie “A Grandpa For Christmas” (getting him a Golden Globe nod).

Ernest Borgnine is survived by his wife Tova, his children, Christofer, Nancee and Sharon Borgnine, his stepson David Johnson, six grandchildren and his sister, Evelyn Verlardi. He was truly one of a kind, and will be greatly missed. [New York Times]

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