Ed Asner, a portly and prolific character actor who became a star in middle age as the gruff but lovable journalist Lou Grant, first on the hit comedy The Mary Tyler Moore Show and then on the drama Lou Grant, died Sunday. . He was 91 years old.
Asner’s representative confirmed the actor’s death. His official Twitter account included a note from his children: “We regret to say that our dear patriarch passed away this morning in peace. Words cannot express the sadness we feel. With a kiss on the head. Good night father. We love you.”
Built like the football lineman he once was, the bald Asner was an official actor when he was hired in 1970 for The Mary Tyler Moore Show. For seven seasons he was the ruined boss of Moore’s exuberant Mary Richards (he called her “Mary,” she called him “Mr Grant”) in a fictional Minneapolis television newsroom. Later, he would play the role for five years in Lou Grant.
The role brought in three Emmy Awards for Best Supporting Actor and two Best Actor Awards. He also won Emmy Awards for his roles in the miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man (1975-76), and Roots (1976-77).
He had over 300 credits and remained active throughout his 70s and 80s. In 2003, he played Santa Claus in Will Ferrell’s hit movie Elf. He was the father of John Goodman in the short 2004 CBS comedy Center of the Universe and the voice of the aging hero in the 2009 Pixar hit release Up. Most recently, he was featured in such television series as Forgive Me and Dead to Me. .
However, Asner said it was difficult to land interesting roles.
“I never work enough,” he said in 2009. “It’s the story of my career. There is simply nothing to refuse, let me put it that way. I’d say most people are probably in the same boat, older folks, and that’s a shame. “
As president of the Screen Actors Guild, the liberal Asner was embroiled in controversy in 1982 when he spoke out against US involvement in Latin America. Lou Grant was canceled and did not run for a third SAG term in 1985.
Asner spoke about his politicization in a 2002 interview, noting that he began his career during the McCarthy era and for years had been afraid to speak out for fear of being blacklisted. Then he saw a movie of a nun showing the cruelties inflicted by the government of El Salvador on the citizens of that country.
“I came out to complain about the constant arming and strengthening of the armed forces of our country in El Salvador, which oppressed its people,” he said.
Former SAG president Charlton Heston and others accused him of making non-US statements and abusing his position.
“We even had bomb threats at the time. I had armed guards, ”Asner recalled.
The actor blamed the controversy for ending Lou Grant’s five-year career, although CBS insisted the declining ratings was the reason the show was canceled. Asner’s character had been all the rage since the very first episode of Mary Tyler Moore, when he told Mary at their initial meeting, “You have guts … I hate guts!”
The inspired cast included Ted Knight as Ted Baxter, a goofy news anchor; Gavin MacLeod as Murray Slaughter, a sarcastic journalist; and Betty White as sex-obsessed and manipulative home show host Sue Ann Nivens. Valerie Harper and Cloris Leachman, playing Mary’s neighbors, saw their characters become their own shows.
Mary Tyler Moore was still a hit when the star decided to pursue other interests, which is why she ended season seven with a hilarious ending in which all the leads were fired except for the goofy Baxter.
Asner immediately entered Lou Grant, her character moved to Los Angeles to become editor of the City of the Tribune, a crusade newspaper under the firm hand of publisher Margaret Pynchon, memorably played by Nancy Marchand.
Although the show had its light moments, its scripts touched on a variety of darker social issues that most series wouldn’t touch on at the time, including alcoholism and homelessness.
Asner remained politically active for the rest of his life and in 2017 published the book The Grouchy Historian: An Old-Time Lefty Defends Our Constitution Against Right-Wing Hypocrites and Nutjobs.
Asner, born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1929, almost became a journalist in real life. He studied journalism at the University of Chicago until a professor told him there was little money to be made from the profession. He quickly switched to drama, debuting as martyr Thomas Becket in a campus production of TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral.
He dropped out of school, went to work as a taxi driver and other jobs before being drafted in 1951. He served in the French Army Signal Corps.
Upon returning to Chicago, he appeared at the Playwrights Theater Club and Second City, the famous satire company that launched the careers of dozens of the best comedians. Later, in New York, he joined The Threepenny Opera and appeared alongside Jack Lemmon on Face of a Hero.
Arriving in Hollywood in 1961 for an episode of Naked City, Asner decided to stay and appeared in numerous movies and television shows, including the movie El Dorado, alongside John Wayne, and the Elvis Presley Kid Galahad and Change of Habit vehicles. He was a regular on the 1960s political drama series Slattery’s People.
He was married twice, to Nancy Lou Sykes and Cindy Gilmore, and had four children, Matthew, Liza, Kate, and Charles.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism