Charles Grodin, the quirky, unconventional actor and writer who appeared as the Caddish newlyweds in “The Heartbreak Kid” and later had roles ranging from Robert De Niro’s counterpart in the comic book thriller “Midnight Run” to the vicious father in “Beethoven “Ranged Comedies Has Died. He was 86 years old.
Grodin died Tuesday of bone marrow cancer in Wilton, Connecticut, said his son Nicholas Grodin.
Known for his dead style and mundane looks, Grodin also appeared in “Dave,” “The Woman in Red,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” and “Heaven Can Wait”. On Broadway, he starred with Ellen Burstyn in the long-running comedy “Same Time, Next Year” from the 1970s and found many other outlets for his talent.
In the 1990s he made a name for himself as a liberal commentator on radio and television. He also wrote plays and television scripts, won an Emmy for his work on a 1997 Paul Simon special, and wrote several books in which he humorously reflected on his ups and downs in show business.
Actors, he wrote, “shouldn’t think about getting ahead so much as about getting the best they can, so that when you get the chance, you’ll be ready. I did this so I wouldn’t suffer from the frustration of all rejections. They just gave me more time. He formulated this advice in his first book, published in 1989, “It would be so nice if you weren’t here”.
Grodin became a star in the 1970s but may have broken through years earlier: he auditioned for the title role in Mike Nichols’ “The Graduate,” which came out in 1967. But the part for what became a classic 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 he found widespread attention in the 1972 Elaine May comedy “The Heartbreak Kid”.
He played as a newlyweds Jewish couple who left their comically neurotic bride to go after a beautiful, wealthy blonde played by Cybill Shepherd. The film was a hit and Grodin received high praise. He commented, “After I saw the film, a lot of people came up to me to punch my nose.”
Over the next few years, Grodin played in an elaborate film remake of “King Kong” in 1976 as the greedy showman who brought the big ape to New York. (The World Trade Center replaced the Empire State Building at its peak.) He was Warren Beatty’s devious lawyer in Heaven Can Wait and Gene Wilder’s friend in The Woman in Red (he appeared less successful in the May 1987 adventure comedy ) “Ishtar”, a notorious flop).
In 1988’s Midnight Run, Grodin was an accountant who stole millions from a gangster, and De Niro was the bounty hunter who tried to get him cross-country to Los Angeles. They are followed by the police, another bounty hunter, and the mob, and because Grodin is afraid of flying, they have to travel by car, bus, or even freight wagons.
“Beethoven” brought him success in 1992 in the family animal comedy genre. When asked why he took on such a role, he told The Associated Press that he was glad he got the job.
“I’m not so asked,” answered Grodin. “It’s not that I have this pile of wonderful offers. I’m just happy that they wanted me. “
Amid his film appearances, Grodin became a familiar face on late-night television, perfecting a character who would confront Johnny Carson or others with a false aggressiveness that made the audience wince and laugh at the same time.
“It’s all a joke,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. It was a choice to do that. “
His biggest stage success by far was “Same Time, Next Year”, which opened on Broadway in 1975 and lasted almost three and a half years. He and Burstyn were two people who – although both happily married – meet once a year in the same hotel for an extra-marital meeting. Beyond humor, the play was praised for skilfully tracking the changes in her life and society from the 1950s to the 1970s. The critic Clive Barnes called Grodin’s character “a monument to male insecurity, wonderfully incompetent”.
After 1994’s “My Summer Story,” Grodin largely gave up acting. From 1995 to 1998 he hosted a talk show on the CNBC cable network. He moved to MSNBC and then to CBS ’60 Minutes II.
In his 2002 book, “I Like You Better When You’re Funny,” he said that too many television programmers believe that viewers are best served “if we only hear from lifelong journalists.” He argued that “people outside Washington and in professions other than journalism” also deserved a soap box.
In 2006 he returned to the big screen as Zach Braffs know-it-all in “The Ex”. Newer credits are the films “An Imperfect Murder” and “The Comedian” as well as the TV series “Louie”.
Grodin was born Charles Grodinsky in Pittsburgh in 1935, the son of a wholesale dry goods seller who died when Charles was 18 years old. He played basketball and later described himself as “a rough kid who kept getting kicked out of class”.
He studied at the University of Miami and the Pittsburgh Playhouse, worked in summer theater, and then fought in New York. He worked as a taxi driver, postal worker and security guard at night while studying drama during the day.
In 1962, Grodin made his Broadway debut and received good reviews in “Tchin Tchin,” a three-digit play starring Anthony Quinn. He followed in 1964 with “Absence of a Cellos”.
He co-wrote and directed a short-lived off-Broadway show from 1966 entitled “Hooray! It’s a lovely day … and all of that. “That same year he made his film debut in a low-budget flop called Sex and the College Girl.”
In 1969, Grodin showed his early interest in politics by helping write and directing “Songs of America,” a TV special with Simon and Garfunkel that contained civil rights and anti-war messages. But the original sponsor pulled out, and Simon later called the little-noticed effort “a tragedy”.
Simon returned in 1977 with a special that faked show business and dubbed Grodin as the show’s awkward producer. Grodin and his co-authors won Emmys.
Grodin and his first wife Julia Ferguson had a daughter, comedian Marion Grodin. The marriage ended in divorce. He and his second wife, Elissa Durwood, had a son, Nicholas.
The late AP Entertainment writer Bob Thomas contributed biographical material to this story.