Veteran Character Actor Ed Asner, 'Mary Tyler Moore' Star, Dies At 91

During his career, Asner won seven Emmys and five Golden Globes and served two terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild.
Actor Ed Asner, seen in 2020, has died at the age of 91.
Actor Ed Asner, seen in 2020, has died at the age of 91.
Rodin Eckenroth via Getty Images

Veteran actor Ed Asner, best known for portraying city news editor Lou Grant on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and its spinoff series “Lou Grant,” has died at the age of 91.

A verified Twitter account that belonged to the seven-time Emmy Award winner confirmed the news Sunday with a statement from his children.

“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,” it read.

The character actor did not shy away from political activity and advocated for various progressive causes throughout the later decades of his career.

The Kansas City native, who was born on Nov. 15, 1929, was the youngest of five children and the first in his family to be born in a hospital. His father, Morris, immigrated from Russia at the turn of the 20th century and ran a junkyard. His mother, Lizzie, was also an immigrant. As a young man, Asner attended the University of Chicago and served two years in the Army Signal Corps during the Korean War.

Upon his return to the United States, Asner honed his craft in the theaters of Chicago and New York. In between plays, including the acclaimed Broadway revival of “The Threepenny Opera” in 1954, he made a string of appearances on many popular TV programs, including “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Route 66,” “The Untouchables,” “Gunsmoke,” “The Fugitive” and “Mission: Impossible.”

Asner shot to stardom in the 1970s playing Lou Grant, the sweet yet cantankerous news director on the sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and its dramatic spinoff, “Lou Grant.” His work on both programs earned him the distinction of being the first actor to win both comedy and drama Emmy Awards for the same role. He would win another Emmy in 1977 for playing Capt. Thomas Davies, a conflicted slave trader, in the miniseries “Roots.”

Over the next three decades, Asner continued to appear on notable TV shows, such as “Hawaii Five-0,” “ER,” “The Practice,” “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and “CSI: NY.” He also appeared in “Michael: Tuesdays And Thursdays,” a critically acclaimed comedy airing on the CBC in Canada, and on the American sitcom “Hot In Cleveland.”

Asner lent his considerable vocal talents to cartoons as well, including “Spider-Man,” “Gargoyles,” “Batman,” “Captain Planet and the Planeteers” and “Superman.” Children and adults alike were utterly charmed by his performance as Santa in the film “Elf,” and as the voice (and obvious model) for Carl Fredricksen in the 2009 Academy Award-winning Pixar film “Up.”

He also appeared onstage in the one-man show “FDR,” about his boyhood hero, former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Over the course of his six-decade career, Asner won seven Emmys, more than any other male actor in history. He took home five Golden Globes as well, and served two terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild. In 2003, he was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame.

Asner was known for his political activism and charity work. An outspoken progressive, he lobbied for the establishment of a single-payer health care system in California and against the death penalty. He often referred to himself as a “lefty,” including in his Twitter bio, and in 2017, he co-authored a book called “The Grouchy Historian: An Old-Time Lefty Defends Our Constitution Against Right-Wing Hypocrites and Nutjobs.”

He was active in the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the Rosenberg Fund for Children, Autism Speaks and Defenders of Wildlife.

In 2018, he opened the Ed Asner Family Center, a Los Angeles-based organization that provides educational opportunities and mental health support for special needs adults.

For his efforts on behalf of social justice causes, Asner received the ACLU’s Workers Rights Committee Award, the Anne Frank Human Rights Award and the National Emergency Civil Liberties Award.

He was married and divorced twice and had four children.

Asner was featured in talk show host Larry King’s 2004 book, “Remember Me When I’m Gone,” in which celebrities wrote reflected upon how they’d like to be memorialized. The actor joked that people might focus on his lack of hair, his long life or his many outrageous talents.

And for his epigraph, Asner suggested this: “From those savants he trusted and occasionally entrusted certain confidences, it might be gathered that his rather lengthy sojourn on Earth (if his figures are to be believed) was short in terms of his life and that even more astounding, his life did not commence and will not be terminated on Earth. In other words, we have what would be called an ET here. Opening a storage locker next to Walt Disney’s may reveal that Ed Asner has left the planet. Requiescat Pacem.”