Ernest Borgnine, the actor who won an Academy Award for his leading role in “Marty” (1955), portraying a lonely Bronx butcher, and became one of the busiest character actors of the next four decades, died July 8 at a hospital in Los Angeles at the age of 95.
Borgnine’s manager, Lynda Bensky, said the actor died of kidney failure Sunday afternoon. His wife, Tova, and children were at his side at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, she said.
“It’s a very sad day,” Bensky said. “The industry has lost someone great, the caliber of which we will never see again. A true icon. But more importantly, the world has lost a sage and loving man who taught us all how to ‘grow young.’ His infectious smile and chuckle made the world a happier place.”
According to CNN, born in Connecticut to Italian immigrants, Borgnine — originally Ermes Effron Borgnino — began taking theater classes after serving in the Navy during World War II.
The former Navy serviceman started by playing villains in Hollywood movies, but avoided typecasting by snagging the Oscar-winning lead in “Marty” in 1955.
“The Oscar made me a star, and I’m grateful,” he said. “But I feel had I not won the Oscar I wouldn’t have gotten into the messes I did in my personal life.”
Those messes included four failed marriages, including one in 1964 to singer Ethel Merman that lasted less than six weeks.
But Borgnine’s fifth marriage, in 1973 to Norwegian-born Tova Traesnaes, endured and brought with it an interesting business partnership, The Huff Post writes. She manufactured and sold her own beauty products under the name of Tova and used her husband’s rejuvenated face in her ads.
Oscar for “Marty” turned out to be Borgnine’s only Oscar nomination, yet it was a star-making part that broke him out of the villain mold.
Borgnine acted in such films as “The Dirty Dozen,” “The Wild Bunch,” “The Flight of the Phoenix,” “The Poseidon Adventure” and “Escape from New York,” but after “Marty,” the veteran sailor’s most memorable character appropriately came with the title role of the 1960s TV comedy “McHale’s Navy” and its big-screen spinoff.
In addition to his Oscar for “Marty,” Borgnine was nominated for three Emmys — the most recent in 2009, for a guest spot on the hospital drama “ER” — and won a life achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild in 2010.
Borgnine had a recurring voice role on “SpongeBob SquarePants,” becoming the oldest actor ever nominated for a Golden Globe and received the lifetime-achievement award last year from the Screen Actors Guild.
“I keep telling myself, `Damn it, you gotta go to work,'” Borgnine said in a 2007 interview with The Associated Press. “But there aren’t many people who want to put Borgnine to work these days. They keep asking, `Is he still alive?'”
On Jan. 24, 2007, Borgnine celebrated his 90th birthday with a party for friends and family at a West Hollywood bistro. Still boisterous, Borgnine made a rare concession to age at 88 when he gave up driving the bus he would take around the country, stopping to talk with local folks along the way.
During an interview at the time, Borgnine complained that he wanted to continue acting but roles were tough to find at his age.
“I just want to do more work,” he said. “Every time I step in front of a camera I feel young again.”