Ernest Borgnine, Oscar-Winner Critical of Brokeback Mountain, Dies

By Jeremy Kinser

Originally published on Advocate.com July 08 2012 6:12 PM ET

Academy Award-winning actor Ernest Borgnine, once married to gay icon Ethel Merman and who gained notoriety in recent years for refusing to watch Brokeback Mountain, has died at age 95, reports The Associated Press.

The beefy screen star's longtime spokesman, Harry Flynn, tells AP that Borgnine died of renal failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center with his wife and children at his side. 

Borgnine, always an arresting, robust presence on screen, first gained wide attention as a vicious staff sergeant in 1953's From Here To Eternity, starring opposite Montgomery Clift and Frank Sinatra. He's perhaps best-regarded for the 1955 drama Marty, in which he memorably played a mild-mannered lovelorn butcher. Borgnine emerged victorious at the Academy Awards that year, winning best actor over stiff competition that included James Dean's seminal performance in East of Eden. Among the actor's other notable films are the 1972 disaster flick The Poseidon Adventure, a favorite with gay audiences for its sometimes risible dialogue, The Legend of Lylah Clare, a 1968 high camp Hollywood-set drama that costarred Kim Novak, and Johnny Guitar, the 1954 Joan Crawford western loaded with lesbian subtext.

One of the most curious elements in his bio is a brief marriage to mercurial Broadway diva Ethel Merman. The tempestuous union between the two lasted less than three weeks. In her memoir Merman famously devoted a chapter to her marriage to Borgnine, which consisted of one blank page. Borgnine later became a favorite of television audiences with his starring role in the 1960s sitcom McHale's Navy and for voicing the character Mermaid Man on the animated series SpongeBob SquarePants.

In recent years the actor, a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, courted controversy when he stated that he would neither watch nor vote for Brokeback Mountain, the impactful 2005 gay-themed tearjerker about two cattlemen who become lovers. "If John Wayne were alive, he’d be rolling over in his grave," Borgnine said at the time. The film would ultimately lose the best picture Oscar to the less widely-acclaimed Crash, leading many to feel that Hollywood's old guard had been uncomfortable with the subject matter.

Watch Borgnine speak about his refusal to watch Brokeback Mountain below.