Charles Grodin, the witty, offbeat actor and writer
who played a caddish newlywed in "The Heartbreak Kid" and later played Robert De Niro's counterpart in the comic thriller "Midnight Run" to the befuddled father in the "Beethoven" comedies, has died at the age of 86.
Grodin died from bone marrow cancer
on Tuesday at his home in Wilton, Connecticut, according to his son, Nicholas Grodin.
Grodin, known for his deadpan delivery and everyday appearances, also appeared in "Dave," "The Woman in Red," "Rosemary's Baby," and "Heaven Can Wait." On Broadway, he co-starred with Ellen Burstyn in the long-running 1970s comedy
"Same Time, Next Year," among many other roles.
In the 1990s, he made a name for himself as a liberal radio and television commentator; he also wrote plays and television scripts, winning an Emmy for his work
on a 1997 Paul Simon special; and he wrote several books in which he reflected humorously on his career ups and downs.
He advised actors
to “think not so much about getting ahead as becoming as good as you can be, so you’re ready when you do get an opportunity. I did that, so I didn’t suffer from the frustration of all the rejections. They just gave me more time,” he wrote in his first book, “It Would Be So Nice If You Weren’t Here,” published in 1989.
Grodin rose to prominence in the 1970s, but he could have done so much sooner: he auditioned for the title role in Mike Nichols' 1967 film "The Graduate," which became a classic, but the part went to Dustin Hoffman instead.
Grodin had a small role in "Rosemary's Baby" and was part of the large cast of Nichols' adaptation of "Catch-22" before gaining wide attention in Elaine May's 1972 comedy "The Heartbreak Kid."
Grodin starred as a Jewish newlywed who abandons his comically neurotic bride to pursue a beautiful, wealthy blonde played by Cybill Shepherd. The film was a success, and Grodin commented, "After seeing the movie, a lot of people
would approach me with the intention of punching me in the nose."
In the following years, Grodin appeared in a lavish 1976 remake of “King Kong” as the greedy showman who brings the big ape to New York
(in the climax, the World Trade Center replaced the Empire State Building). He was Warren Beatty’s devious lawyer in “Heaven Can Wait,” and Gene Wilder’s friend in “The Woman in Red” (less successfully, he appeared in May’s 1987 adventure comedy “Ishtar,” a noto
In 1988′s “Midnight Run,” Grodin played a bail-jumping accountant who stole millions from a mobster, and De Niro played the bounty hunter attempting to bring him cross-country to Los Angeles
, where they are pursued by police
, another bounty hunter, and the Mob, and they are forced to travel by car, bus, and even boxcar because Grodin is afraid of flying
In 1992, he achieved success in the family-animal comedy genre with the film "Beethoven," and when asked why he took on such a role, he told The Associated Press
that he was grateful for the opportunity.
“I'm not in high demand,” Grodin responded, “it's not like I have a stack of fantastic offers; I'm just glad they wanted me.”
In between film roles, Grodin established himself as a familiar face on late-night television, perfecting a character who would confront Johnny Carson or others with a fake aggressiveness that made audiences cringe and laugh at the same time.
In 1995, he told The Los Angeles Times, "It's all a joke; it's just a thing; it was a choice to do that."
His biggest stage success, by far, was “Same Time, Next Year,” which premiered on Broadway in 1975 and ran for nearly 312 years. He and Burstyn played two people who, despite being happily married, meet in the same hotel once a year for an extramarital fling. The play won praise for deftly tracing the changes in their lives, and in society, from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Grodin largely abandoned acting after 1994′s “My Summer Story,” hosting a talk show on the CNBC cable network from 1995 to 1998, before moving
on to MSNBC
and then CBS′ “60 Minutes II.”
In his 2002 book, "I Like It Better When You're Funny
," he argued that too many TV producers believe that viewers are best served "if we hear only from lifelong journalists." He argued that "people outside of Washington and in professions other than journalism
" deserved a soapbox as well.
In 2006, he played Zach Braff's know-it-all father-in-law in "The Ex," and his most recent credits include the films "An Imperfect Murder" and "The Comedian
," as well as the TV series "Louie."
Grodin was born in Pittsburgh in 1935, the son of a wholesale dry goods seller who died when he was 18 years old. He played basketball
and later described himself as "a rough kid, always getting kicked out of class."
He attended the University of Miami and the Pittsburgh Playhouse, worked in summer theater, and struggled in New York, working nights as a cab driver, postal clerk, and watchman while studying acting during the day.
Grodin made his Broadway debut in 1962 and received positive reviews for his performance in "Tchin Tchin," a three-character play starring Anthony Quinn, which he followed in 1964 with "Absence of a Cello."
He co-wrote and directed a short-lived off-Broadway show called "Hooray! It's a Glorious Day... and all that" in 1966, and made his film debut in a low-budget flop called "Sex and the College Girl" the following year.
In 1969, Grodin demonstrated his early interest in politics
by assisting in the writing and direction of "Songs of America," a TV special starring Simon and Garfunkel that included civil rights
and antiwar messages; however, the original sponsor pulled out, and Simon later called the effort "a tragedy."
Simon returned in 1977 with a special that spoofs show business
and starred Grodin as the show's bumbling producer; Grodin and his co-writers won Emmys for their efforts.
Grodin and his first wife, Julia Ferguson, had a daughter, comedian Marion Grodin, before divorcing. He and his second wife, Elissa Durwood, had a son, Nicholas.