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 in Wilton, Connecticut, 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." On Broadway, he starred with Ellen Burstyn in the long-running 1970s comedy "Same Time, Next Year," 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.
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.
Grodin became a star in the 1970s, but might 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 instead to Dustin Hoffman.
Grodin did have a small role in "Rosemary's Baby" and was part of the large cast of Nichols' adaptation of "Catch-22" before he gained wide notice in the 1972 Elaine May comedy "The Heartbreak Kid."
He starred as a Jewish newlywed who abandons his comically neurotic bride to pursue a beautiful, wealthy blonde played by Cybill Shepherd. The movie was a hit and Grodin received high praise. He commented: "After seeing the movie, a lot of people would approach me with the idea of punching me in the nose."
In the next few years, Grodin played in a lavish 1976 film remake of "King Kong" as the greedy showman who brings the big ape to New York. (The World Trade Center replaced the Empire State Building in the climax.) 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 notorious flop). His turn in 1981’s “The Great Muppet Caper” was typically dedicated as a thief wooing Miss Piggy.
In 1988's "Midnight Run," Grodin was a bail-jumping accountant who took millions from a mobster and De Niro was the bounty hunter trying to bring him cross-country to Los Angeles. They're being chased by police, another bounty hunter and the Mob, and because Grodin is afraid of flying, they are forced to go by car, bus, even boxcar.
"Beethoven" brought him success in the family-animal comedy genre in 1992. Asked why he took up such a role, he told The Associated Press he was happy to get the work.
“I’m not that much in demand,” Grodin replied. “It’s not like I have this stack of wonderful offers. I’m just delighted they wanted me.”
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.
“It’s all a joke,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1995. “It’s just a thing. It was a choice to do that.”