Ernest Borgnine Dead at 95
There are actors. There are movie stars. And then there are legends, titans of the silver screen. Ernest Borgnine was a legend. The iconic actor, an Oscar winner for ‘Marty’ and an Emmy nominee for ‘McHale’s Navy,’ passed away today at 95 from renal failure, leaving behind a career so vast that it would it be easier to count the talented people he didn’t work with.
Born in 1917, Borgnine fought in World War II before he first appeared on Broadway in 1949. After a series of appearances in film and television, he played Sgt. “Fatso” Judson alongside Frank Sinatra, Montgomery Clift and Burt Lancaster in ‘From Here to Eternity,’ which won best Picture at the 1953 Academy Awards. From that point on, he never stopped working and there only a handful of years in the ensuing decades where he doesn’t have at least one credit to his name.
As with so many working actors, there was just as much junk as gold, but Borgnine was never a movie star, he could never be too picky…all he had to do was show up on a set, do his damndest and hope a great movie grew around him. You’ll never find a lazy Ernest Borgnine performance. He wasn’t capable of that.
He was the ultimate “that guy,” the king of characters actors. He didn’t look like a heroic leading man — he was one of us. This made him perfect for the title role in ‘Marty,’ one of his few significant leading roles. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of a lonely, kind-hearted butcher and it remains a highlight in a career with dozens of them.
A staple villain and sidekick in virtually every western and war film throughout the ’50s and ’60s, Borgnine’s filmography is staggering to behold. However, his next iconic role came in 1962, when he played Commander McHale in the naval-themed comedic TV series, ‘McHale’s Navy.’ This kept him occupied for four years and 138 episodes, netting him three Emmy nominations in the process.
More great movies followed. ‘The Dirty Dozen.’ ‘The Wild Bunch.’ ‘Willard.’ ‘The Poseidon Adventure.’ ‘Ice Station Zebra.’ ‘The Black Hole.’ ‘Escape From New York.’ He was a go-to tough guy, rarely the lead, but always the lead’s loyal partner who could kick your ass with a steely glare and a sinister smirk.
Between the genuine classics and the not-so-genuine classics (he was one of the leads on ‘Airwolf,’ after all), Borgnine simply never stopped. He appeared in 203 films and TV shows during his 63 year career, with three roles in 2011 alone. His last high profile role was in 2010′s box office hit ‘Red,’ but kids (and their stoner siblings) will recognize his voice from ‘Spongebob Squarepants,’ where he voiced the character of Mermaid Man.
Ernest Borgnine was never a household name, but show his picture to any movie fan and they’ll know him, even if they don’t know his name. They know his face. They know his characters. They know that he always seemed at home and natural on the screen, whether he was involved in a tender romance or threatening someone with the business end of a bowie knife. He did not become a legend by being a movie star: he became a legend by being indispensable to filmmakers for over half a century. How could you not cast Ernest Borgnine?