Ernest Borgnine, the beefy Italian-American star of film and television, died of renal failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on Sunday. His family was reportedly by his side. He was 95.
This is the second death of a classic celebrity in less than a week, with Andy Griffith passing away July 3rd.
Borgnine did not set out to be an actor, serving in the U.S. Navy throughout World War II and then trying his hand at various jobs after the war. When nothing seemed to catch on, his mother suggested he try acting. According to CBS News, he caught on fairly quickly, and was soon appearing on Broadway and some early television roles.
The article notes: “With his beefy build and a huge orb of a head that looked hard enough to shatter granite, Borgnine naturally was cast as heavies early on, notably as Sgt. Fatso Judson, the brute who beat Frank Sinatra’s character to death in 1953’s Pearl Harbor saga From Here to Eternity. More bad guy roles followed, but Borgnine showed his true pussycat colors as lovesick Marty Piletti, a Bronx butcher who, against all odds and his own expectations, finds romance with a wallflower in Marty, adapted from Paddy Chayefsky’s television play. Borgnine won the best-actor Oscar, and the film picked up three other awards, including best picture.”
While Marty ended up being Borgnine’s only Oscar nomination, it broke him out of always playing a villain. He went on to star in such classic films as The Dirty Dozen, The Flight of the Phoenix, The Poseidon Adventure and later the classic action film Escape from New York. In television he scored big as Lieutenant Commander Quentin McHale in the popular TV show McHale’s Navy, and years later he played the voice of Mermaid Man in Spongebob Squarepants.
In all, Borgnine’s career spanned nearly seven decades and more than 200 film and television roles.
Check out this great tribute to the actor’s career from CBS News.