Charles Grodin, Emmy-Winning Actor of Film and Television, Dies at 86

Grodin was synonymous with playing taciturn, deadpan characters.
Charles Grodin
MIDNIGHT RUN, Charles Grodin, 1988, (c)Universal/courtesy Everett Collection
©Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection

Charles Grodin, acclaimed actor of works like “Midnight Run,” “The Heartbreak Kid,” and “Heaven Can Wait” has died at the age of 86. The actor had been fighting a battle against bone marrow cancer. Grodin became synonymous with playing taciturn, deadpan characters that were cultivated in comedies of the 1970s, but also translated perfectly to children’s features of the 1980s and 1990s like “The Great Muppet Caper” and “Beethoven.”

Grodin was born in Pittsburgh on April 12, 1935. He briefly studied at the University of Miami after high school but quickly left to pursue acting, eventually studying at the HB Studio in New York City under the legendary Uta Hagen.

His first role was as a bit player in Walt Disney’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” in 1954 and he eventually made his debut on Broadway opposite Anthony Quinn in “Tchin-Tchin.” After making appearances on television shows like “The Virginian” and a brief but pivotal role in 1968’s “Rosemary’s Baby,” Grodin co-wrote and directed the Broadway play “Hooray! It’s a Glorious Day… And All That.” When he was offered the role of Ben Braddock in “The Graduate,” Grodin turned it down because the pay was too low.

It wasn’t until the early 1970s that Grodin finally started to see acclaim in Hollywood, playing the lead role of Lenny Cantrow in “The Heartbreak Kid.” As he continued to star and produce plays on Broadway he also stared in the big budget remake of “King Kong” in 1976 and worked under Warren Beatty in Beatty’s directorial debut, “Heaven Can Wait.” He would work with Beatty again on the infamous bomb “Ishtar” in 1987.

In 1977 Grodin won his first and only Emmy for being part of the writing team of “The Paul Simon Special” opposite Lorne Michaels, Chevy Chase, and Lily Tomlin. The show would win for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Musical Special.

The actor turned to working in family features in the 1990s, anchoring the box-office hit “Beethoven” opposite Bonnie Hunt. He would return for the film’s sequel in 1993, and had supporting roles in Ivan Reitman’s “Dave” that same year, as well as the Martin Short comedy “Clifford” in 1994.

Grodin gave up acting, for a time, in the 2000s to raise his two children. He is survived by his wife, daughter, and son.

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