Charles Durning, a son of a poverty stricken Irish immigrant, who went on to become one of the great character actors of his age and a war hero, has died.

Dunning was 89, and was born in Highland Falls, New York, the second last of ten children.

His father, James, from Ireland, died when Durning was 16 after his health was destroyed by poison gas during the first world war. Five of Durning's sisters died of smallpox, three of them in a two week period.

Despite his tough start in life Durning, who left home early to cease being a burden on his mother, found his way into show business in Buffalo, where he worked as an usher in a theater and took over one night when a comedian showed up drunk. He was hooked.

He was also a war hero, enlisting in the army in World War 2 and landing on Omaha Beach on D Day . He received a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts.

After the war he returned to acting with little success until 1962 when Joseph Papp hired him for several Shakespeare productions.

He was soon a major character actor, in ‘The Sting’ with Robert Redford and Paul Newman, and ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ with Dustin Hoffman with whom he also starred in ‘Tootsie’ and he received Emmy and Tony nominations as well as starring many major Broadway roles.

He suffered from post traumatic stress after his war experience.and he said acting helped him deal with it.

“There are many secrets in us, in the depths of our souls, that we don’t want anyone to know about,” he told Parade Magazine. “There’s terror and repulsion in us, the terrible spot that we don’t talk about. That place that no one knows about — horrifying things we keep secret. A lot of that is released through acting.”