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Ernest Borgnine had a career in Hollywood that spanned six decades, starting in 1951 and leading right up to the 2010s. Throughout those years his stocky, solid frame filled the television box and on the big screen where the Italian actor commanded your attention in whatever part he played. He seemed to remake himself every 15 or so years, finding a second, then a third and a fourth career to a new generation of watchers.
His Oscar win for playing a unloved butcher in 1955's Marty was well before my time, so my memories of the big man are skewed through younger eyes. When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s, Ernest Borgnine was one of those guys I saw in war movies and TV shows. On Saturday afternoons I would see him and guys like Lee Marvin fighting Nazis in The Dirty Dozen or with William Holden taking on Mexican banditos in The Wild Bunch. By the time I was going to theaters, Borgnine was bickering with Gene Hackman in the bowels of a sinking passenger ship in The Poseidon Adventure, and then a couple of years later he had one of the most unusual parts one can play in a space movie, that of a journalist in Disney's The Black Hole. And there he was again, injecting some much needed jokes against Kurt Russell's dead serious Snake Plisskin in Escape From New York.
Borgnine came across like the real-life version of The Thing from the Fantastic Four: a big physical presence who's bark could be louder than his bite, but down inside he could also be a friendly dude. The kind of guy that you wanted as your Dad if you lived in a rough neighborhood, or the guy standing beside you if you were marching into hell to rescue your buddies from a POW camp.
If you look at his IMDb page, there's your proof that he loved to work. There simply aren't any gaps in his C.V. from when he got his start in the 1950s right up to 2012. Thumbing through it, I remember seeing him in guest spots on dozens of TV shows: Magnum P.I., ER, The District, JAG, The Commish, Murder She Wrote, Highway to Heaven and on and on. And I remember him from even earlier stuff, like playing the Devil in that creepy and cheesy horror movie The Devil's Rain, or lasting through five seasons being the chief mechanic for Airwolf.
Ernest Borgnine was a kind of constant for me, one of the faces that I associate with good times watching shows. If one has to check out of this world, doing it after living a full life at age 95 and with over 200 screen credits seems like a good way to do it.
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