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Actor Charles Grodin dies at 86

The familiar face from TV and movies found many outlets for his talents, including books and political commentary.
Actor Charles Grodin, shown here in 1994. died Tuesday at his home in Wilton, Conn., from bone marrow cancer. He was 86.
Actor Charles Grodin, shown here in 1994. died Tuesday at his home in Wilton, Conn., from bone marrow cancer. He was 86. [ MARTY LEDERHANDLER | AP ]
Published May 18
Updated May 18

Charles Grodin, the droll, offbeat actor and writer who scored as a caddish newlywed in The Heartbreak Kid and later had roles ranging from Robert De Niro’s counterpart in the comic thriller Midnight Run to the bedeviled father in the Beethoven comedies, has died. He was 86.

Grodin died Tuesday at him in Wilton, Conn., from bone marrow cancer, his son, Nicholas Grodin, said.

Known for his dead-pan style and everyday looks, Grodin also appeared in Dave, The Woman in Red, Rosemary’s Baby and Heaven Can Wait. He also starred on Broadway, and he found many other outlets for his talents.

In the 1990s, he made his mark as a liberal commentator on radio and TV. He also wrote plays and television scripts, winning an Emmy for his work on a 1997 Paul Simon special, and wrote several books humorously ruminating on his ups and downs in show business.

Charles Grodin attended the Ripple of Hope Awards in New York on Dec. 11, 2013.  Grodin, the offbeat actor and writer who scored as a newlywed cad in “The Heartbreak Kid” and the father in the “Beethoven” comedies, died Tuesday at his home in Wilton, Conn. from bone marrow cancer. He was 86.
Charles Grodin attended the Ripple of Hope Awards in New York on Dec. 11, 2013. Grodin, the offbeat actor and writer who scored as a newlywed cad in “The Heartbreak Kid” and the father in the “Beethoven” comedies, died Tuesday at his home in Wilton, Conn. from bone marrow cancer. He was 86. [ CHARLES SYKES | Charles Sykes/Invision/AP ]

Actors, he wrote, should “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 spelled out that advice in his first book, It Would Be So Nice If You Weren’t Here, published in 1989.

Amid his film gigs, Grodin became a familiar face on late-night TV, 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 his 2002 book, I Like It Better When You’re Funny, he said too many TV programmers’ 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” also deserved a soapbox.

He returned to the big screen in 2006 as Zach Braff’s know-it-all father-in-law in The Ex. More recent credits include the films An Imperfect Murder and The Comedian and the TV series Louie.

Grodin was born Charles Grodinsky in Pittsburgh in 1935, son of a wholesale dry goods seller who died when Charles was 18. He played basketball and later described himself as “a rough kid, always getting kicked out of class.”

He studied at the University of Miami and the Pittsburgh Playhouse, worked in summer theater and then struggled in New York, working nights as a cab driver, postal clerk and watchman while studying acting during the day.

— By Jake Coyle, AP Film Writer. The late AP Entertainment Writer Bob Thomas contributed biographical material to this story.