Seven-time Emmy-winning actor, activist and philanthropist, Ed Asner, former president of the Screen Actors Guild, who starred as Lou Grant on both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Lou Grant before a late-career resurgence through his memorable voicework in 2009 animated film Up, has passed away at age 91.
Asner’s official Twitter account posted a message from his family, confirming the news saying,
“We are sorry to say that our beloved patriarch passed away this morning peacefully. Words cannot express the sadness we feel. With a kiss on your head- Goodnight dad. We love you.”
Publicist Charles Sherman said Asner died of natural causes at his home in Tarzana.
The youngest of five children, Edward Asner was born in Kansas City on November 15, 1929. He attended Wyandotte High School where he was an editor of the school paper, The Pantograph, and he was all-city tackle on the football team (A framed photo of him wearing No. 52 from that era was seen hanging on a wall in Grant’s office on The Mary Tyler Moore Show).
He then spent two years at the University of Chicago, followed by a tour in the Army when he was drafted in 1951 where he was stationed in France. When he returned to Chicago he joined Paul Sills in the Playwrights Theater Group, which became the Compass Players and the Second City Group. He acted in 26 plays with the group over the next two years.
Asner left the troupe in 1955 to move to New York, where he played Peachum in The Threepenny Opera at the Theatre de Lys for three years. He made his Broadway debut in the short-lived Face of a Hero, starring Jack Lemmon, and continued to work onstage at the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford and the New York Shakespeare Festival’s Central Park productions before heading to Los Angeles in 1961.
He worked on TV shows such as Naked City, Slattery’s People, The Fugitive and Ironside. His film work was also character-driven in such films as Kid Galahad, The Satan Bug, The Slender Thread, El Dorado, Gunn and Change of Habit in the 1960s.
Asner also was a series regular on Thunder Alley, The Bronx Zoo and Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. He also delivered acclaimed performances on two immensely popular miniseries, Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man, which both earned him Emmy Awards.
Asner is probably best known for his role as Lou Grant on both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spinoff Lou Grant, pulling off the rare feat of playing the same character in both a comedy and a drama series.
He is the most awarded male performer in Emmy history with seven wins including five for playing Grant.
From 1981-1985 Asner served two terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild.
Asner worked steadily on the big screen during the 1990s and 2000s with credits including Academy Boyz, Hard Rain, The Bachelor, Above Suspicion, Elf and Enchanted Cottage.
Asner received SAG’s Life Achievement Award in 2002, two years after winning the guild’s Ralph Morgan Award. In 2003, he was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame.
Asner then attracted a new generation of fans when he voiced Carl Fredricksen, a 78-year-old widower who ties thousands of balloons to his house to fulfill a dream of seeing South America, in the Academy Award nominee Up.
The actor appeared on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno in a recurring segment entitled Does This Impress Ed Asner?
In addition to Up, Asner’s extensive voice-over resume includes providing the voices for Joshua on Joshua and the Battle of Jericho for Hanna-Barbera, J. Jonah Jameson on the Spider-Man series, Hoggish Greedly on Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Roland Daggett on Batman: The Animated Series, Ed Wuncler on The Boondocks and Granny Goodness in various animated DC series.
Most recently he appeared on Grace & Frankie, Cobra Kai, Dead to Me, and provided voice work for American Dad!
In 2016, Asner took on the role of Holocaust survivor Milton Saltzman in Jeff Cohen’s play The Soap Myth in a reading at Lincoln Center’s Bruno Walter Theatre in New York. For the next three years, he did the play in cities across the United States, until the tour was thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic.
A lifelong Democratic supporter, Asner’s decades of political activism also include his support for the efforts to free Mumia Abu-Jamal and the movement to establish single-payer health care program California One Care.
Asner’s son, Matt Asner, and daughter-in-law Navah Paskowitz Asner launched The Ed Asner Family Center in 2017 which provides counseling services, support groups, enrichment programs and camps to special needs individuals and their families.
Asner was married twice, the second time to producer Cindy Gilmore, and was twice divorced. He was also married to Nancy Lou Sykes from 1959 until their 1988 divorce. He is survived by four children Katie, Charles and twins Matthew and Liza, and grandchildren Jake, Will, Avivah, Max, Wolf, Eddy, Gabriel, Charlotte, Grant and Helena.