Ed Asner, legendary actor, activist and philanthropist, passed away peacefully Sunday morning, surrounded by family. He was 91.
Asner, former president of the Screen Actors Guild, is 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 — five of them for playing Grant, the irascible but loving newsman. He also received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in 2001.
Asner’s long list of credits also include the movies Elf, one of several movies in which he played Santa Claus, and Pixar’s Oscar-winning Up, in which he voiced the lead, Carl Fredricksen. His most recent major roles included arcs on several Emmy-nominated comedy series on Netflix: Cobra Kai, playing Johnny Lawrence’s stepfather Sid Weinberg; Grace and Frankie; and Dead to Me.
Born on November 15, 1929 in Kansas City, Asner started his acting career in theater and helped found the Playwrights Theatre Company in Chicago, a predecessor of The Second City. He landed his first Broadway role in the 1960 production of Face of a Hero alongside Jack Lemmon. Asner made his TV debut in 1957 on anthology Studio One.
A string of guest-starring roles led to his casting as Grant in the acclaimed 1970 half-hour comedy series The Mary Tyler Moore Show. After the series ended In 1977, Asner’s character was given his own spinoff series, hourlong drama Lou Grant (1977–82). Additionally, Asner made appearances as Lou Grant on two other shows, Rhoda and Roseanne.
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 hugely popular miniseries, Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man, which both earned him Emmy Awards.
In addition to Up, Asner’s extensive voice-over résumé includes providing the voices for Joshua on Joshua and the Battle of Jericho (1986) for Hanna-Barbera, J. Jonah Jameson on the Spider-Man series (1994–98), Hoggish Greedly on Captain Planet and the Planeteers (1990–95), Roland Daggett on Batman: The Animated Series (1992–94), Ed Wuncler on The Boondocks (2005–14) and Granny Goodness in various animated DC series.
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 U.S., until the tour was thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Asner served as president of SAG from 1981-85 after he emerged as a leader during the 1980 SAG strike. As SAG president, he opposed U.S. policy in Central America. 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.
The Ed Asner Family Center, launched in 2017 by Asner’s son, Matt Asner, and daughter-in-law Navah Paskowitz Asner, provides counseling services, support groups, enrichment programs and camps to special needs individuals and their families
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