Charles Grodin, star of Midnight Run and Heartbreak Kid, dies aged 86

Grodin’s son Nicholas said his father died at his home from bone marrow cancer.
Grodin’s son Nicholas said his father died at his home from bone marrow cancer.

Charles Grodin, the offbeat actor and writer who starred as a newlywed cad in The Heartbreak Kid and the father in the Beethoven comedies, has died at the age of 86.

Grodin’s son Nicholas said his father died on Tuesday at his home in Wilton, Connecticut, from bone marrow cancer.

Grodin appeared in a string of notable films from the 1970s onward, including Midnight Run, The Woman In Red and Heaven Can Wait.

On Broadway, he starred with Ellen Burstyn in the long-running 1970s comedy Same Time, Next Year.

He also made his mark in another sphere, as a commentator on radio and TV and author of several books, including the FX series Louie.

He first gained wide notice in the 1972 Elaine May comedy The Heartbreak Kid, as a newlywed who abandons his bride on their honeymoon for beautiful Cybill Shepherd.

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.”

After 1994’s My Summer Story, Grodin largely abandoned acting. From 1995 to 1998, he hosted a talk show on CNBC cable network. He moved to MSNBC and then to CBS’ 60 Minutes II.

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.

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 theatre and then struggled in New York, working nights as a cab driver, postal clerk and watchman while studying acting during the day.

In 1962, Grodin made his Broadway debut and received good notices in Tchin Tchin, a three-character play starring Anthony Quinn. He followed with Absence Of A Cello” in 1964.

He co-wrote and directed a short-lived 1966 off-Broadway show called Hooray! It’s A Glorious Day… And All That.” That same year, he made his movie debut in a low-budget flop called Sex And The College Girl.

In 1969, Grodin demonstrated his early interest in politics by helping write and direct Songs Of America, a TV special starring Simon and Garfunkel that incorporated civil rights and anti-war messages.

But the original sponsor pulled out and Simon later called the little-noticed effort “a tragedy”.

Simon returned with a special in 1977 that spoofed showbusiness and featured Grodin as the show’s bumbling producer. Grodin and his co-writers 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.