Amid the serious and somber problems of the summer of 2012 comes a silly, sportive antidote — a dance craze, of sorts, with an Omaha connection.
It's based on the movies “Weekend at Bernie's” (1989) and “Weekend at Bernie II” (1993) about a dead guy who nonetheless reacts to certain music by dancing, sort of.
Actor Terry Kiser, who grew up in Omaha and still has friends here, played Bernie and created the dead-guy dance. It's not performed stiff like a movie zombie, but a bit loosey-goosey — bent back at the waist, head leaning farther back, arms lightly flailing to the beat.
The Oakland A's baseball team and its fans have adopted the “Bernie dance,” and Kiser has been invited to throw the ceremonial first pitch on Sept. 1. And then, of course, to do the Bernie.
The original dance spawned many imitators, but only Terry can replicate it dead-on.
“It's going to be on national TV — ESPN and everything,” he said with a chuckle. “Just throwing out the first pitch is a cliché. We'll start doing the Bernie on the mound, and I might go into left field and end up at home plate. We'll see what happens. I'll make it funny.”
So how did a funny dance from long ago — by an actor playing a sunglasses-wearing corpse with a smirk — become popular again?
Well, a hip-hop artist known as ISA two years ago released a rap song, “Movin' Like Bernie,” based on the movie character. As the rap song says: Go an' let it sink in, we do this every weekend, we move it like Bernie.
Ballplayers on the A's started playing the song in the clubhouse this year, and then one hitter had it played on the stadium PA system every time he came to bat. The fans loved it, and started doing the crazy dance in the stands.
Although the A's may have taken it to a new level, Terry said the dance has caught on elsewhere the past couple of years — in nightclubs, on college campuses and in other ballparks. Some pro football players have danced the Bernie after making a big play.
The former Omahan, who lives on a 46-acre ranch near Telluride, Colo., has acted on Broadway and on TV as well as in movies. He is enjoying the renewed attention to his Bernie dance.
“When you really think about it,” he said by phone Wednesday, “it's just so far out to revitalize something this old and have this interest again.”
Kiser was a star multi-sport athlete at Omaha Westside High, class of 1957, as well as a speaker and actor. In 1993, he was inducted into the school's hall of fame.
Among his Omaha friends is attorney Larry Myers, owner of the Countryside Village shopping center. When they were boys, Terry's family moved in next door on 93rd Street, and the two shot baskets in the driveway.
“We had similar senses of humor, and we still laugh a lot when we're together,” Larry said. “He's just a fun guy to be around. And he's a very deep thinker, a person who loves his craft.”
Terry stays busy acting in independent films, mentoring young actors and taking to the stage. Friday night at the Wright Opera House in Ouray, Colo., he will portray Archbishop Thomas Becket in a theatrical reading of T.S. Eliot's “Murder in the Cathedral.”
In his long career, he has performed on soap operas and in TV shows such as “Hill Street Blues,” “The Golden Girls” and Carol Burnett's “Carol & Company.”
The renewed popularity of Bernie's dance may lead to a third movie — written, directed by and starring Kiser and tentatively titled, “Bernie Does Extreme Sports.” He has signed up an experienced director of photography, and is negotiating to acquire rights.
Millions have seen versions of the Bernie dance on Youtube. For all his acting experience, Terry is often asked if he minds being best-known for playing a dead guy.
“An artist,” he said, “just tips his hat and moves on. That's what I've done. And not one check has bounced.”
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