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We Took an Acting Class With the Dead Guy From 'Weekend at Bernie's'

Joe Capraro/KUT
Mose Buchele (R) learned Terry Kiser (L) is most famous for playing dead – but the veteran character actor is anything but.";

Every Friday this summer, KUT's gone back to class for our Summer School series.  KUT reporters are learning a craft or skill from people around town who are experts in that field.

So when KUT’s Mose Buchele found out that a veteran actor from one of his favorite slapstick comedies of the ‘80s was teaching in Austin – he couldn’t resist setting up a lesson. 

Credit Joe Capraro/KUT
"Anybody can be an actor," Kiser said. "Anybody can be a heart surgeon. You just gotta put in the time.”

 Terry Kiser studied at the renowned Actors Studio in New York. "I won the Obie award for the best actor in New York that year for off Broadway," he said when we met.

After racking up stage awards and nominations, Kiser's career took him to Los Angeles. In the 1980s he appeared in movies and almost any TV show you can name: "All in the Family, the Carol Burnett Show, Three’s Company, Hill Street Blues," he rattled off. "I mean, it just goes on and on."

But if you know Kiser – and even if you’ve never heard his name – you probably know him as Bernie Lomax. 

That’s right. The dead guy from "Weekend at Bernie's."

Credit Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.
From left: Jonathan Silverman, Terry Kiser and Andrew McCarthy in "Weekend at Bernie's"

In case you don’t remember, "Weekend at Bernie's" was the 1989 hit comedy featuring two guys and a corpse: Bernie. For reasons we won’t get into here, the two guys spend the movie dragging Bernie around, pretending that he’s alive.  Kiser, as Bernie, stole the show.

For people of a certain age the movie is a kind of classic. There was a sequel. (Tagline: Bernie’s back … and he’s still dead!)

The movies even sparked a hip-hop dance craze a couple years ago: there's the Bernie dance, the Bernie lean, and the “Moving like Bernie” song.

So when I met Kiser I asked if he would teach me to play dead, like Bernie. I even did a kind of lose limbed impersonation. He said no – and I worried I had blown the whole lesson.

"It doesn’t bug me," he said. "It’s funny that that’s what you’re known for. World-renowned for a dead man. And yet, you’ve won these awards on Broadway and you’ve done other movies and things like that. But hey, that’s fine, that’s fine. I accept that. I’m happy."

His plans for me were more ambitious. I was going to learn to act.

Watch Mose get into character below.

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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