Oscar winning actor Ernest Borgnine died on Sunday at the age of 95. The star was known for playing blustery characters with hearts of gold and had a penchant for playing villains. While he won his best-actor Oscar for Marty back in 1955, Borgnine has made an impact on succeeding generations by continuing to crank out work in Hollywood well past retirement age and by playing roles on television shows like Airwolf, ER, and voicing Mermaidman on Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob Squarepants along with his McHale’s Navy costar Tim Conway.
Borgnine enlisted in the Navy at the age of 18 and stayed there for ten years, experience that he undoubtedly tapped into when playing military men in McHale’s Navy and From Here to Eternity. He then enrolled in acting school at the suggestion of his mother. He worked in a theater company in Virginia before finally getting his big break on Broadway as a nurse in a production of Harvey in 1949. After his success on the Great White Way, Hollywood beckoned and he moved to Los Angeles. Borgnine’s movie career took off after his memorable performance as Sgt. “Fatso” Judson in From Here to Eternity (1953). Following in those heavy footsteps, Borgnine was cast in a series of Westerns and dramas as a villainous type, including roles in Bad Day at Black Rock, Johnny Guitar, Demetrius and the Gladiators and Vera Cruz. However, it was playing a shy, unassuming, and arguably depressed butcher in Marty (1955) that ultimately won him an Oscar.
“The Oscar made me a star, and I’m grateful,” Borgnine told an interviewer in 1966. “But I feel had I not won the Oscar I wouldn’t have gotten into the messes I did in my personal life.” According to the Associated Press, those so-called messes included four failed marriages, including one in 1964 to singer Ethel Merman that lasted less than six weeks — shorter than Kim Kardashian’s marriage to Kris Humphries. Whatever havoc it wreaked privately, the Oscar opened doors in Hollywood. Borgnine was able to break free from his bad-guy typecasting to play an action star in such films as Torpedo Run, Barabbas, The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Bunch as well as more sensitive roles such as The Catered Affair, opposite Bette Davis. Borgnine starred in the TV series McHale’s Navy from 1962 to 1966, playing the commander of a boat manned by a crew of misfits during World War II.
Whatever role Borgnine was cast in, be it Muhammad Ali’s manager in The Greatest or the voice of Carface in All Dogs Go To Heaven or the Cabbie in Escape From New York, Borgnine played with heart. For that we will miss him.
Here are some of Borgnine’s most memorable performances:
2. The Poseidon Adventure
3. McHale’s Navy
4. From Here to Eternity
5. The Wild Bunch