A seasoned journeyman comic and light dramatic character player whose credits span daytime and primetime TV, Broadway and features, Kiser and his flexible body and rubbery face earned a boost when he was cast as the dead-but-still-partying boss in "Weekend at Bernie's" (1989).
Kiser had accumulated three full decades of credits before that "break". In the 1960s, he worked on such daytime dramas as "The Doctors" and "The Secret Storm" while he studied at the Actors Studio, often appearing in productions of both the Director's Unit and Writer's Unit. He also had a supporting role in Neil Simon's unsuccessful 1974 Broadway comedy "God's Favorite". Kiser also began a lucrative career as a commercial pitchman, earning three Clio Awards.
Kiser's feature debut came with the role of a preacher in Paul Newman's "Rachel, Rachel" (1968), starring Joanne Woodward. Migrating to L.A., he appeared in dozens of TV episodes and in the short-lived series "Rollergirls" (NBC, 1978), as manager for a women's roller derby team. In 1984, he landed a recurring role on the NBC sitcom "Night Court" as well as another recurring role, as Victor Hitler, on the NBC police drama "Hill Street Blues", for which he earned an Emmy nomination. Kiser seemed to have a penchant for TV projects that didn't have a long life, including the syndicated sketch comedy "Off the Wall" (1986) and Carol Burnett's much anticipated return to variety "Carol & Company" (NBC, 1990-91).
On the big screen, Kiser offered a humorous turn as the swinging father of an overachieving son in "Rich Kids" (1979) and played numerous small roles in features like "All Night Long" (1981), "Making Love" and "Six Pack" (both 1982). In "Weekend at Bernie's", his character dies twenty minutes into the film, yet is seen throughout as a cadaver, being dragged through more sand than the GIs at Omaha Beach. The film's success led to the inferior (and unnecessary) sequel, "Weekend at Bernie's II" (1993), in which the still-stiffed Bernie was possessed by a zombie curse and danced his way through the Caribbean.