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SYFY WIRE obituary

Charles Grodin passes away: King Kong, Beethoven, Muppets actor & comedy star was 86

By Benjamin Bullard
Charles Grodin

Charles Grodin, the versatile comedian, actor, and television personality who many remember for his mid-career stardom as a favorite recurring guest and presenter on TV talk shows, has reportedly passed away at his Connecticut home, according to The New York Times. He was 86.

Grodin’s composed and affable personality, framed with an insticntive gift for deadpan humor, won him tons of fans as a staple on the late-night TV talk circuit beginning with regular appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and other TV-talk staples through the 1980s and 1990s. But he also enjoyed a lengthy acting and comedy career; one that spanned the theater stage, movie screens, and television.

Grodin’s screen career included several genre appearances that showcased his relatable, everyman disposition — even when he was cast as the bad guy, as he was in the 1970s big-budget remake of King Kong. Grodin played oil executive Fred Wilson in Paramount’s 1976 blockbuster, bossing the great ape out of his island habitat and into servitude as a sideshow attraction (for which Grodin’s character eventually paid the karmically ultimate price).

Grodin also played a sillier criminal in 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper, jaunting with Jim Henson’s iconic creations as comedically jealous jewel thief Nicky Holiday, who memorably fell in love with Miss Piggy and ended up surviving a kidnapping ordeal alongside Kermit the Frog. Grodin’s unique ability to blend urbane sophistication with near-slapstick comic goofiness landed him a long string of comedy roles from the 1970s all the way through the 2000s, including a pair of memorable grouchy-dad performances in the John Hughes-written Beethoven (1992) and its 1993 sequel, Beethoven’s 2nd.

While Grodin settled into a TV talk show and comedy groove in his later career, his acting credits spanned six decades and featured several appearances in sci-fi, fantasy, and even horror projects that later fans may have missed. He starred in the 1968 horror classic Rosemary’s Baby as Dr. Hill, the physician whom Rosemary (Mia Farrow) instinctively trusts as mounting supernatural forces conspire against her; and would go on to appear in fantasy-tinged comedies Heaven Can Wait (1978) and The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981) in key roles.

Grodin’s likable presence became so enmeshed in the pop culture zeitgeist of the 1980s that Disney recruited him alongside comedy stars of the era like George Wendt, Jon Lovitz, Bobcat Goldthwait, Dana Carvey, and Kevin Nealon to star in Cranium Command, one of Epcot Center’s early science-themed multimedia attractions at Walt Disney World. Themed around a humorous (but educational) exploration of the human body from a shrunk-down child’s point of view, Cranium Command cast Grodin as the voice of the logical “Left Brain” (opposite Lovitz’ slapstick, impulsive “Right Brain”), and entertained uncounted millions of guests over nearly two decades before finally closing at Epcot in 2007.

Born April 21, 1935 in Pittsburgh, Grodin attended the University of Miami before dropping out to embark on his long and varied acting career. He reportedly passed away today at his home in Wilton, Connecticut.

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