Charles Grodin, the actor who appeared in the Beethoven films, Midnight Run, The Heartbreak Kid, and The Great Muppet Caper, to name just a few credits, has passed away at the age of 86. Grodin’s son told The New York Times that his father’s cause of death was bone marrow cancer.
After starting his career with an uncredited role in Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in the mid-1950s, Grodin dropped out of college to pursue acting, writing, and directing for the stage, appearing in several Broadway productions and directing multiple Broadway shows as well. He developed the kind of All-American good looks which made him a versatile cinematic asset during the latter half of the twentieth century, and always appeared to be equally comfortable in supporting roles as leading ones. Grodin was one of those actors who made everything he did look easy, and he was especially adept at playing guys who got in over their heads. His deadpan comedic reactions and ability to portray put-upon or frustrated characters made him stand out from his contemporaries, and he was a guy I was always personally delighted to see pop up in any capacity whatsoever – even in a brief cameo in So I Married an Axe Murderer.
As his Hollywood career began, Grodin chipped his way through small roles in popular television shows like The F.B.I. and The Virginian, and then played Dr. Hill in Roman Polanski’s horror classic Rosemary’s Baby. He then worked with the acclaimed comedy duo of Nichols and May, appearing in Mike Nichols’ 1970 adaptation of Catch-22 and later starring as Lenny Cantrow in Elaine May’s 1972 comedy The Heartbreak Kid, in which he played a total scumbag who ditches his wife for a younger blonde. That character should be completely irredeemable on the page, but through his excellent performance, Grodin somehow manages to grasp onto the tiniest bit of the audience’s sympathy.
Roles in films like the King Kong remake, Heaven Can Wait, and The Incredible Shrinking Woman followed, as well as a memorable turn as the over-the-top villain in 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper, which is a terrific, scenery-chewing performance that doesn’t get the credit it deserves for the way it walks the perfect tonal high wire without missing a beat. The Woman in Red and Ishtar are a couple of other notable credits for him on the way to Midnight Run, which pitted Grodin against Robert De Niro and which became a beloved cross-country buddy movie staple.
That gave way to the next stage of his career, where he perfected the “put-upon dad” archetype and introduced himself to a whole new generation in movies like Beethoven, Beethoven’s 2nd, and Clifford. There was a 12 year period between the mid-90s and the mid-2000s where he didn’t appear in anything, but then his career picked back up again with appearances in The Ex, The Humbling, Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young, the FX series Louie, the Madoff miniseries, and more.
Rest in peace, Mr. Grodin – you will be deeply missed.
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