Charles Grodin iconic straight-man passes at 86

Charles Grodin as he appeared in Midnight Run, Beethoven, Heartbreak Kid, Madoff

Emmy Award winner Charles Grodin has passed away at age 86 in his home in Wilton, Connecticut. His death, from bone marrow cancer, was confirmed to NPR by his son, actor Nicholas Grodin.

Charles Grodin amassed a résumé that boasted acting, screenwriting, producing, directing, and television hosting credits over the course of his decades-long career. 

After beginning his career on Broadway opposite Anthony Quinn, Grodin quickly segued into movies, landing a memorable supporting role in Rosemary’s Baby in 1968.

Charles Grodin was born Charles Grodinsky in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA on Sunday, April 21, 1935. He made his film debut in an uncredited role for Disney`s 1954 film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as a drummer boy. When Grodin first arrived in New York as a young actor in 1956, he took a job as a night watchman on the Brooklyn waterfront, making $1.62 an hour, but he studied acting at HB Studio in New York City under the famed actress and instructor Uta Hagen. He was active in theater in the 1960s, appearing in Absence of a Cello in 1964 and directing Lovers and Other Strangers in 1968. Also in 1968, he played a small but memorable role as a naive obstetrician in Rosemary’s Baby and in Mike Nichols’ adaptation of the anti-war novel Catch-22 in 1970.

Grodin attained movie stardom with his role in Elaine May‘s cult comedy The Heartbreak Kid in 1972. He played an immature salesman who strays from his new wife (Jeannie Berlin, May’s daughter) and falls for another woman (Cybill Shepherd) during his honeymoon. He then went on to star in a number of outstanding films including 1974’s 11 Harrowhouse (which Grodin also adapted for film), King Kong in 1976, and Thieves in 1977. In 1977, he also hosted Saturday Night Live and sang with that episode’s musical guest, Paul Simon.

Chicago crews witnessed Grodin’s dry wit and charm while shooting the buddy film Midnight Run with Robert DeNiro. It was a road show that passed right through Chicago in 1987. Our publisher, Barbara Roche traveled with the film as Holzer Roche Casting for an experience of a lifetime that occasionally required a Navajo translator to get through an audition. With much of their time spent on location in Flagstaff and Sedona AZ, Grodin and DeNiro shared Thanksgiving dinner with cast and crew, and a New Years Eve bash welcoming 1988. Roche remembers him as being charming, professional, and an absolute pleasure to work with.

“See you in the next life,” Charles Grodin

For decades he continued to churn out his memorable deadpan performances in film and television, in projects such as Heaven Can Wait, The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, Sunburn, It’s My Turn, Seems Like Old Times, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, The Great Muppet Caper, The Woman in Red, Movers and Shakers, Last Resort, Ishtar, The Couch Trip, You Can’t Hurry Love, Midnight Run, and Taking Care of Business.

His first play, The Price of Fame, premiered in New York at the Roundabout Theatre in 1990. In the 1990’s He continued to gain new and younger fans in hits such as Beethoven (1&2), Dave, So I Married an Axe Murderer, Heart and Souls, Clifford, and It Runs in the Family. 

In the mid-1990s, Grodin retired from acting, and wrote several autobiographies, and became a talk show host on CNBC, and in 2000 a political commentator for 60 Minutes.

Grodin returned to the big screen in 2006 in the Jason Bateman-Zach Braff comedy The Ex and he did an episode of Law & Order SVU, and an episode of The Michael J. Fox Show

Grodin was honored by the Connecticut Press Club as the recipient of the Mark Twain Award for Humor In 2014 and continued working as an actor in both TV and film, most recently in 2016 as Carl Shapiro in the TV mini-series Madoff and in 2017 as Author in the drama An Imperfect Murder. 

Charles Grodin is survived by his wife of 38 years, Elissa Durwood Grodin and their son Nicholas Theodore Grodin.

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