Veteran actor Ed Asner has passed away at the age of 91. He died of natural causes at home in Los Angeles.
Tough journalist Lou Grant was his most high-profile role. Asner first played the part in The Mary Tyler Moore Show. A spin-off followed, where Grant ran a major newspaper.
He also found fame behind the microphone as the voice of airborne pensioner Carl Fredriksen in Pixar’s Up (2009). But there was more to him than press deadlines and helium balloons…
An Ed For Business: Ed Asner’s Early Life
Born 1929 in Kansas City, Missouri, young Ed – or Yitzhak – had an Orthodox Jewish upbringing. His father Morris David managed a junkyard and mother Lizzie kept the home.
As mentioned to The Hollywood Reporter (THR) this month, in what would be his last interview, he pushed against the rabbi’s teachings. According to Asner, he became a “grave disappointment“.
Ironically he started out studying journalism at the University of Chicago before the acting bug bit. Dramatic roles, not to mention a few regular jobs, followed. Asner operated radar for the Signal Corp in France during the Korean War (1950 – 53).
Returning to Chicago, he helped establish a venue in the Windy City that was eventually known by another name: The Second City.
Laughter And Headlines: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Lou Grant
Asner appeared in some of America’s most famous shows – Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Untouchables, The Fugitive, Mission: Impossible.
The Guardian mentions that he “profited from his physical resemblance to the stereotyped view of KGB types during the spy-show boom.” But it was on a classic US sitcom that Ed Asner reached households around the world.
Lou Grant shared the screen with Tyler Moore’s Mary Richards. Speaking to THR, Asner revealed they wanted him to read Grant at audition “like a crazy, wild, meshuga, nutso”. It convinced top brass but not Tyler Moore, at least initially: “After I had the job, they told me that Mary said at the time, ‘Are you sure?'”
The show ran from 1970 – 77. But Tyler Moore’s production company MTM and CBS weren’t done with Lou Grant. He got his own series, however, this time the focus was on drama and hard-hitting issues.
The Guardian writes that Asner’s “irascible but kindly crusading city editor” shone a light on subjects that got America talking. His sitcom days had their moments challenging the status quo. Lou Grant (1977 – 82) went straight for the jugular.
Asner was politically active as a Democratic Socialist. He believed controversies over the series and his views led to Grant getting the ax.
Other notable small screen entries for Asner include Roots (1977), Mad About You (1996-7), Curb Your Enthusiasm (2001), and Dead To Me (2019).
Spinning Webs And Flying High: Asner’s Animated Roles
Asner’s career soared skywards as the lead character in Up. Produced by animation titans Pixar, it introduced him to a new generation. He reprised Carl Fredriksen for Dug Days, his final acting role.
In the years before this, Asner entered the Marvel Universe, albeit the nineties version. Going back to the newsroom, he voiced another notorious newspaper editor – J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man (1994-98). He also lent his vocals as Roland Daggett in Batman: The Animated Series.
Ed Asner On The Big Screen
A key movie appearance was in the John Wayne classic El Dorado (1966). Directed by Howard Hawks and co-starring Robert Mitchum, it saw Asner play landowner Bart Jason.
Speaking of icons, kids everywhere should recognize Asner as Santa from Will Ferrell’s Elf (2003). Asner even worked with Elvis (Kid Galahad, 1962).
He was elected President of the Screen Actors Guild twice, beginning in 1981. Asner won both Emmys and Golden Globes for playing Lou Grant and was nominated multiple times during his career.
Asner tied the knot twice and had four children, including Kate Asner who is also an actress.
“Words cannot express the sadness we feel” say the family, via Asner’s Twitter account. “With a kiss on your head- Goodnight dad. We love you.”
Al Franken describes Asner and his most famous tole as “one of those iconic characters who will always be part of our nation’s identity.”
Tom Arnold writes that Asner was an “Actor, author, activist, warm, lovable, gruff, lefty, patriot and a great father.”
Wanda Sykes had “the honor to witness Ed’s generosity and compassion first hand.”
“Ed always wanted to be part of things that mattered” tweets Bob Saget.
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Ed Asner, 1929 – 2021. RIP.