Robert Klane, screenwriter behind “Weekend at Bernie’s,” dies

Director Robert Klane instructs actress Donna Summer
Director Robert Klane instructs actress Donna Summer on the set of the Columbia Pictures movie “Thank God It’s Friday” in 1978.
(Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)
Share via

Robert Klane, the irreverent mind behind “Weekend at Bernie’s,” has died.

The writer passed away from kidney failure on Aug. 29 at his home in Woodland Hills, his son Jon Klane confirmed. He was 81.

The elder Klane is best known as the writer and executive producer of “Weekend at Bernie’s,” the iconic 1989 comedy that finds two men putting a pair of sunglasses on their dead boss — the titular Bernie — to make it seem as if he’s still alive.

Klane also wrote and directed the sequel, “Weekend at Bernie’s II,” and worked on a variety of other features throughout the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s including “National Lampoon’s European Vacation,” “Where’s Poppa?” and “Folks!”


“His thing was, there’s got to be a laugh a page,” the younger Klane said of his father’s process.

“We never had Little League or Cub Scouts,” he added. “But many years ago, we did collaborate on a reboot of ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ for MGM, where the original script was developed and where the rights reside. And that’s like my greatest memory, is spending, I think it was the month of August, that we just kind of wore out the carpet and came up with gags.”

(A regime change at MGM ultimately led the father-son duo’s script to get shelved; it was never produced.)

In a statement shared by Klane’s son, the actor and director Rob Reiner — who appeared in “Where’s Poppa?” — recalled Klane’s “brilliant comedy mind” and commended the writers’ lack of self-censorship.

“That’s what made him great and set him apart,” Reiner said. “He was fearless.”

Klane was born on Oct. 17, 1941, in Port Jefferson, Long Island, the son of a homemaker and a physician. He got an English degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before going into copywriting.

“But after work, he stayed up late at night writing his first novel,” the obituary reads. “In 1967, Random House published ‘The Horse Is Dead,’ [a] proudly tasteless story about a nebbish camp counselor who’s picked on by his campers.”


Klane sold the rights to the book to a producer, the money from which allowed him to leave the world of advertising and focus fully on writing. The result was a second novel, “Where’s Poppa?,” the film adaptation of which ultimately led Klane to move to Los Angeles.

Klane adapted his next novel, “Fire Sale,” into a film directed by and starring Alan Arkin, co-starring Rob Reiner and Sid Caesar.

In 1989, “Weekend at Bernie’s” came out. Though initially divisive, the dark comedy has since become Klane’s most mainstream success, sticking firmly in the public consciousness.

In 1984, Klane married J.C. Scott; the couple were together until his death. He’d previously been married to Linda Tesh (from 1962 until 1975) and Anjanette Comer (from 1976 until 1983).

He is survived by Scott as well as his brother Larry; sons David and Jon; daughter Caitlin; and five grandchildren. His daughter Tracy, in 2011, preceded him in death.