(JTA) – Charles Grodin, the deadpan Jewish comic actor who starred in such blockbuster films as “The Heartbreak Kid” and the children’s movie “Beethoven,” died Tuesday, May 18, at his home in Wilton, Connecticut, of bone marrow cancer. He was 86.
Grodin was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household in Pittsburgh but became less observant in his adult years, although he and his second wife – in his words, “a nice Jewish girl from Kansas City” – observed holidays at home.
Following a series of supporting roles in late 1960s films such as “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Catch-22,” Grodin’s big break came with his lead role in “The Heartbreak Kid,” an acclaimed black comedy about a Jewish sporting goods salesman who falls for a college girl played by Cybill Shepherd. Critics praised the film as an early example of a mainstream exploration of Jewish identity, and some likened it to Philip Roth’s work.
Grodin would go on to feature in several other major comedies, notably Warren Beatty’s “Heaven Can Wait,” “Seems Like Old Times” (which like “The Heartbreak Kid” was penned by Jewish writer Neil Simon) and “Midnight Run” alongside Robert DeNiro. He also starred in the 1992 smash “Beethoven,” a family film about a lovable St. Bernard dog.
In 1995 and ’96, Grodin hosted an eponymous news talk show on CNBC and then became a political commentator on “60 Minutes II.” He also won an Emmy in 1978 for co-writing the “Paul Simon Special” variety show. After a long hiatus from acting, he had a late career renaissance, among his roles, he played the defrauded Jewish investor Carl Shapiro in the 2016 “Madoff” miniseries about the late Ponzi schemer.
Grodin added in the 2004 interview that he tried to live “in a way my rabbi would be proud of me.”
“I try to live by religious principles, even if I don’t do the ritual,” he said.
Main Photo: Charles Grodin at his 2007 Wilton Library author talk for his book, If I Only Knew Then…Learning From Our Mistakes (Photo: Wilton Library)