OBITUARY: Charles Grodin, Comedian, Actor, Author, and Wilton Resident, 86

Charles Grodin at his 2007 Wilton Library author talk for his book, If I Only Knew Then…Learning From Our Mistakes (Photo: Wilton Library)

Called “deliciously droll” (Hollywood Reporter), “versatile” (CNN), and someone who “could steal entire scenes with just a look” (Associated Press), Wilton resident Charles Grodin died on Tuesday, May 18, at the age of 86.

His son, Nicholas Grodin, told the AP that the actor had been battling bone marrow cancer and died at home in Wilton.

Grodin became best known in his early career for his role in Elaine May’s comedy The Heartbreak Kid, playing a cad of a newlywed who deserts his neurotic bride on their honeymoon to pursue Cybill Shepherd.

During his prolific work in film, Grodin showcased his wit and dead-pan style as the perfect foil, whether he starred opposite Robert DeNiro (Midnight Run), Warren Beatty (Heaven Can Wait), Steve Martin (The Lonely Guy), Miss Piggy (The Great Muppet Caper), or a drooling Saint Bernard (Beethoven). He appeared in other films as varied as King Kong, The Woman in Red, Dave, Ishtar, So I Married an Axe Murderer and Clifford.

He was just as much a storyteller and author, starting with his first book, It Would Be So Nice If You Weren’t Here, and followed by others including I Like It Better When You’re Funny, and If I Only Knew Then ... Learning From Our Mistakes.

Grodin was a consummate multi-talented pro, writing scripts for the stage and small screen, and finding success as a director and actor on Broadway as well, most notably starring in “Same Time, Next Year” opposite Ellen Burstyn. New York Times critic Clive Barnes raved that Grodin was “a monument to male insecurity, gorgeously inept, and the kind of masculine dunderhead that every decent man aspires to be.”

He was a coveted regular talk-show guest on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” and “Late Night with David Letterman.” He hosted his own talk show on CNBC in the 1990s, moving to MSNBC in 2000, and made several other radio and television appearances as a liberal commentator, including on “60 Minutes II.”

Wilton Generosity

Grodin was an enthusiastic supporter of the Wilton Library, appearing at talks and book signings and narrating a video made about the library, “Wilton Library: Building a Foundation.”

With his wife, Elissa Grodin, he sponsored the Grodin Family Fine Writers Awards for authors of the library’s Wilton Reads programs.

Library executive director Elaine Tai-Lauria said the library staff and board of trustees are saddened by the news of Grodin’s passing, calling him “a true Friend of Wilton Library Association in every sense of the word.”

“Whether he was holding his audience in awe at his author talk, providing an engaging narration for Wilton Library’s ‘Building a Foundation’ video, or sponsoring the Grodin Family Fine Writer Awards for our Wilton Reads authors, his generosity was the true gift. Our thoughts go to his wife Elissa Grodin and his family. He will be deeply missed by the Wilton Library team and the Wilton community,” Tai-Lauria said.

Grodin lent his time and talents to generously support countless organizations, including several in Fairfield County. He recorded PSAs for Laurel House in support of mental health services and preventing homelessness.

Another one of several causes he championed was prison reform and prisoners’ rights, appearing at Wilton Library for a one-person comedy fundraising night in 2012.

Grodin leaves behind his wife, Elissa, and two children, daughter Marion, from his first marriage to Julie Ferguson, and son, Nicholas, from his second marriage.

After news broke of his passing, tributes and remembrances filled social media and showcased his genius. Steve Martin called Grodin “one of the funniest people I ever met.”