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Ernest Borgnine 1917-2012
Screen legend dies aged 95

09 July 2012  |  Written by Owen Williams  

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Ernest Borgnine 1917-2012

Ernest Borgnine, the Hollywood star whose career spanned an incredible seven decades, has died in Los Angeles aged 95.

Born in Connecticut in 1917 to Italian parents, Ermes Efron Bornino spent some of his childhood in Milan, before the family returned to the States in 1924. He enlisted in the US Navy in 1935 and served aboard destroyers during the Second World War. His experiences during his ten-year naval career would feed into one of his early successes: the role of Lieutenant Commander Quinton McHale in ABC's 1960s sitcom McHale's Navy. It had begun life in pilot-form as a drama, but Borgnine took its Phil Silvers-inspired switch to comedy in his stride.

After the navy, concluding that dead-end jobs weren't for him, Borgnine decided to give acting a try, making his Broadway debut in 1945. His first film role was in 1951 in China Corsair, and he quickly built a career playing tough guys and heavies, looming over Spencer Tracy in Bad Day At Black Rock, working for Burt Lancaster's cutthroats in Vera Cruz and attempting to carve up Frank Sinatra with a switchblade in From Here To Eternity. It was his atypically sensitive romantic lead as the lonely Bronx butcher in 1955's Marty that won him his Oscar, however. It also landed him a best actor gong at Cannes and the New York Film Critics' award.

Slightly more varied roles followed, but even in a quieter part like the Shakespeare-quoting Bernie Brown in The Square Jungle, he was still playing a boxing trainer. Always recognisably pugnacious then, his career continued through the likes of The Vikings, The Badlanders and Flight Of The Phoenix. Immediately after McHale's Navy he was snarling through The Dirty Dozen and Ice Station Zebra, and in 1969 he was giggling amid the carnage of Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (he would work with Peckinpah again, nine years later, in the less classic Convoy).

He worked constantly through the 1970s, and found new audiences in the 1980s, employed by John Carpenter and Wes Craven, bulking up the cast of Disney's sci-fi The Black Hole, and scoring a TV hit with three seasons of the helicopter action show Airwolf. Slowing down slightly in the '90s - somewhat preferring the golf course - he still turned up in Gattaca and BASEketball (in which he sang I'm Too Sexy), and for a cameo in the Tom Arnold McHale's Navy remake.

Most recently, we'd heard him in Spongbob Squarepants as Mermaid Man, and seen him in the 2009 season of ER, for which he was nominated for an Emmy. In 2010's Red he was reverently and appropriately cast as an old legend, and he was still working this year, completing filming on what turned out to be his final role in Elia Petridis' The Man Who Shook The Hand Of Vicente Fernandez.

He enjoyed a colourful private life: he was married five times, most infamously tying a knot with Ethel Merman that unravelled in a single month. He died yesterday at Cedars Sinai hospital, surrounded by his family.

"You have to keep going," he once said, "otherwise you're one of these guys that says 'Boy, I can't wait to retire,' and then two weeks later they're in a rocking chair saying 'What the hell am I gonna do now?!'"


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Your Comments

His amazing presence will be missed!
A truly great screen presence, likable in every way. So many memorable performances and achieved so much in his time, making him one of the most inspirational actors of all time. He was excellent in Emperor of the North alongside Lee Marvin and superb in The Wild Bunch. His list of great performances are too large to list fully and actors of this day and age need to look up to this man with the greatest respect! Rest in Peace. More

Posted by dannyfletch at 09:30 on 10 July 2012 | Report This Post

RIP
Great actor. More

Posted by danbo1138 at 18:22 on 09 July 2012 | Report This Post

Top Man. More

Posted by LSJShez at 17:52 on 09 July 2012 | Report This Post

The Wild Buch
VE EM HELL, PIKE ' More

Posted by Happy Shrapnel at 11:57 on 09 July 2012 | Report This Post

' GIVE EM HELL PIKE ' More

Posted by Happy Shrapnel at 11:56 on 09 July 2012 | Report This Post

Emperor of the North
One of my first memories of him was in the film Emperor of the North. I would probably have been about 10 (give or take) when i first saw it and found his character terrifying. And then years later in Escape from New York. Brilliant actor, good old age to get to as well. More

Posted by Mr.Beak at 11:46 on 09 July 2012 | Report This Post

Emperor of the North
One of my first memories of him was in the film Emperor of the North. I would probably have been about 10 (give or take) when i first saw it and found his character terrifying. And then years later in Escape from New York. Brilliant actor, good old age to get to as well. More

Posted by Mr.Beak at 11:46 on 09 July 2012 | Report This Post

FLASHMAN
Even Ernie, whose face was his fortune, flogged a beauty cream on tv that apparently made him look younger; (perhaps it worked, he always looked the same). Liked the way that - when they met socially - Kirk Douglas always called him the name of his character in 'The Vikings', Ragnar, (who was Kirk's dad, even though he was about the same age). A beautiful, bountiful career - Posiedon & Marty obviously - but let's not forget a fantastic turn in a Sean Penn short film made as part of a m More

Posted by Frank Comiskey at 10:56 on 09 July 2012 | Report This Post

Just amazing!
As a massive Airwolf fan, Ernie as Dom Santini helped a huge amount to make it such a great series whilst his cinematic work stands the test of time. He just came across as such a good-natured and fun fellow that you just couldn't do anything but smile when he was on. What an actor, what a gentleman! More

Posted by oldstuff at 10:51 on 09 July 2012 | Report This Post

A great man, a incredible legacy...
We need more Ernest Borgnine's in this world - as actors, and more importantly, as men. More

Posted by The Watcher at 09:49 on 09 July 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Where the hell is any mention of his role as cabbie in Escape from New York
"found new audiences in the 1980s, employed by John Carpenter..." More

Posted by Osric at 09:31 on 09 July 2012 | Report This Post

Where the hell is any mention of his role as cabbie in Escape from New York
He was awesome in it. More

Posted by bosscoe at 09:22 on 09 July 2012 | Report This Post

Where the hell is any mention of his role as cabbie in Escape from New York
He was awesome in it. More

Posted by bosscoe at 09:22 on 09 July 2012 | Report This Post

Where the hell is any mention of his role as cabbie in Escape from New York
He was awesome in it. More

Posted by bosscoe at 09:21 on 09 July 2012 | Report This Post

Where the hell is any mention of his role as cabbie in Escape from New York
More

Posted by bosscoe at 09:21 on 09 July 2012 | Report This Post

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