Star and Navy vet dies of renal failure at 95.
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Los Angeles • Ernest Borgnine, the beefy screen star known for blustery, often villainous roles, but who won the best-actor Oscar for playing against type as a lovesick butcher in "Marty" in 1955, died Sunday. He was 95.
His longtime spokesman, Harry Flynn, told The Associated Press that Borgnine died of renal failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center with his wife and children at his side.
Borgnine, who endeared himself to a generation of Baby Boomers with the 1960s TV comedy "McHale's Navy," first attracted notice in the early 1950s in villain roles, notably as the vicious Fatso Judson, who beat Frank Sinatra to death in "From Here to Eternity."
Then came "Marty," a low-budget film based on a Paddy Chayefsky television play that starred Rod Steiger. Borgnine played a 34-year-old who fears he is so unattractive he will never find romance. Then, at a dance, he meets a girl with the same fear.
"Sooner or later, there comes a point in a man's life when he's gotta face some facts," Marty movingly tells his mother at one point in the film. "And one fact I gotta face is that, whatever it is that women like, I ain't got it. I chased after enough girls in my life. I went to enough dances. I got hurt enough. I don't wanna get hurt no more."
The realism of Chayefsky's prose and Delbert Mann's sensitive direction astonished audiences accustomed to happy Hollywood formulas. Borgnine won the Oscar and awards from the Cannes Film Festival, New York Critics and National Board of Review.
Mann and Chayefsky also won Oscars, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hailed the $360,000 "Marty" as best picture over big-budget contenders "The Rose Tattoo," "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing," "Picnic" and "Mister Roberts."
"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."
Those messes included four failed marriages, including one in 1964 to singer Ethel Merman, which 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. She manufactured and sold her own beauty products under the name of Tova and used her husband's rejuvenated face in her ads.
During a 2007 interview with The Associated Press, Borgnine expressed delight that their union had reached 34 years. "That's longer than the total of my four other marriages," he said, laughing heartily.
From 1962 to 1966, Borgnine a Navy vet himself starred in "McHale's Navy" as the commander of a World War II PT boat with a crew of misfits and malcontents. Borgnine's later films included "Ice Station Zebra," "The Adventurers," "Willard," "The Poseidon Adventure," "The Greatest" (as Muhammad Ali's manager), "Convoy," "Ravagers," "Escape from New York," "Moving Target" and "Mistress."
More recently, Borgnine had a recurring role as the apartment house doorman-cum-chef in the NBC sitcom "The Single Guy." He was the voice of Mermaid Man on "SpongeBob SquarePants" and Carface on "All Dogs Go to Heaven 2."
Ermes Efron Borgnino was born in Hamden, Conn., on Jan. 24, 1917, the son of Italian immigrant parents. Borgnine joined the Navy in 1935 and served on a destroyer during World War II. He weighed 135 pounds when he enlisted. He left the Navy 10 years later, weighing exactly 100 pounds more.
"I wouldn't trade those 10 years for anything," he said in 1956.