Longtime screen star Ernest Borgnine died Sunday of renal failure, his spokesman Harry Flynn told the Associated Press. He was 95.
He was surrounded by his family at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, according to the report.
While he often played the bad guy, Borgnine – who was known for his off-screen professionalism and friendliness – enjoyed a six-decade career that was also filled with many affable roles, from his sensitive, Oscar-winning turn as a homely Bronx butcher who finds love in 1955’s Marty, to his popular Lieutenant Commander Quinton McHale on ABC’s 1962-66 World War II sitcom McHale’s Navy.
The character of the gruff McHale came easily. Born in Connecticut in 1917, Borgnine joined the Navy in 1935 and served for 10 years, reaching the rank of Gunner’s Mate 1st Class.
After fighting in World War II, he began to pursue acting – specifically in the theater, making his Broadway debut in 1949 as a male nurse in the comedy Harvey.
Moving to Los Angeles in 1951, Borgnine received his big break as Sergeant “Fatso” Judson in 1953’s Best Picture of the Year From Here to Eternity alongside Frank Sinatra, whose character he bullied. From there came character roles, including the psychotic villain who threatens Spencer Tracy in Bad Day at Black Rock.
Stayed in the Spotlight
Other notable roles included helicopter pilot Dominic Santini on TV’s Airwolf and as a doorman on the ’90s sitcom The Single Guy. Recently, he provided the voice as the superhero Mermaid Man in the animated SpongeBob SquarePants. In 2011, he received the Screen Actors Guild’s Life Achievement Award.
Borgnine’s biggest box-office success was the 1972 all-star disaster movie The Poseidon Adventure, in which he played Detective Lieutenant Mike Rogo, married to a former hooker (Stella Stevens). Although, besides Marty and From Here to Eternity, his most critically successful movie was the 1969 Western The Wild Bunch.
As he noted in a 1966 interview, “The Oscar made me a star, and I’m grateful. But I feel had I not won the Oscar I wouldn’t have gotten into the messes I did in my personal life.”
Borgnine had four children and was married five times, including to Broadway diva Ethel Merman in 1964. The headline-making marriage lasted less than six weeks – and decades later was compared to the short-lived union of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries.
Borgnine later called the Merman marriage the “biggest mistake of my life. I thought I was marrying [singer] Rosemary Clooney.” (He said the marriage fell apart on their honeymoon overseas, where fans knew him but didn’t recognize her.)
His final marriage, in 1973 to Tova Traesnaes, a skin-care mogul, endured until his death. In 2007, he told AP about their union: “That’s longer than the total of my four other marriages.”
• Additional reporting by STEPHEN M. SILVERMAN