November 15, 1929
Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.
|Died||August 29, 2021 (aged 91)|
Tarzana, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Sheffield Cemetery, Kansas City|
|Alma mater||University of Chicago (dropped out)|
(m. 1959; div. 1988)
(m. 1998; div. 2015)
|21st President of the Screen Actors Guild|
November 3, 1981 – June 20, 1985
|Preceded by||William Schallert|
|Succeeded by||Patty Duke|
|Service/||United States Army|
|Years of service||1951–1953|
Eddie Asner (//; November 15, 1929 – August 29, 2021), professionally known as Ed Asner, was an American actor and former president of the Screen Actors Guild. He is best remembered for portraying Lou Grant during the 1970s and early 1980s, on both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spin-off series Lou Grant, making him one of the few television actors to portray the same character in both a comedy and a drama.
Asner is the most honored male performer in the history of the Primetime Emmy Awards, having won seven – five for portraying Lou Grant (three as Supporting Actor in a Comedy Television Series on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and two as Lead Actor in a Dramatic Television Series on spin-off Lou Grant). His other Emmys were for performances in two miniseries: Rich Man, Poor Man (1976), and Roots (1977).
Asner acted in numerous films such as the western El Dorado (1966), the crime drama They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970), and the cop drama Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981). He portrayed Guy Banister in the political thriller JFK (1991), Warren Buffett in the HBO drama film Too Big to Fail (2011), and Santa Claus in several films, including in Elf (2003). He voiced Carl Fredricksen in Pixar's animated film Up (2009).
Asner starred in the ABC sitcom Thunder Alley (1994–1995), and Michael: Every Day (2011–2017). He has also acted extensively in numerous television series such as The Practice, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, The Good Wife, Cobra Kai, Briarpatch, Working Class, and Dead to Me. He also voiced J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man (1994) series, and Uncle Ben in The Spectacular Spider-Man (2008).
Early life and education
Asner was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and grew up in Kansas City, Kansas. His Ashkenazi Jewish immigrant parents, Lizzie (née Seliger; 1885–1967, from Odesa, Ukraine), a housewife, and Morris David Asner (1879–1957, from Lithuania (Vilna Governorate or Grodno Governorate), ran a second-hand shop and junkyard. His four older siblings were Ben J. Asner (1915–1986), Eve Asner (1916–2014), Esther Edelman (1919–2014) and Labe Asner (1923–2017). He was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family and given the Hebrew name Yitzhak.
Asner attended Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kansas, and the University of Chicago. He studied journalism in Chicago until a professor advised him there was little money to be made in the profession. He had been working in a steel mill, but he quickly switched to drama, debuting as the martyred Thomas Becket in a campus production of T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral. He eventually dropped out of school, going to work as a taxi driver, worked on the assembly line for General Motors, and other odd jobs before being drafted in the military in 1951.
1955–1969: Early work and television roles
Following his military service, Asner helped found the Playwrights Theatre Company in Chicago, but left for New York City before members of that company regrouped as the Compass Players in the mid-1950s. He later made frequent guest appearances with the successor to Compass, The Second City. In New York City, Asner played Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum in the Off-Broadway revival of Threepenny Opera, scored his first Broadway role in Face of a Hero alongside Jack Lemmon in 1960, and began to make inroads as a television actor, having made his TV debut in 1957 on Studio One. In two notable performances on television, Asner played Detective Sgt. Thomas Siroleo in the 1963 episode of The Outer Limits titled "It Crawled Out of the Woodwork" and the reprehensible ex-premier Brynov in the 1965 Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episode "The Exile". He made his film debut in 1962, in the Elvis Presley vehicle Kid Galahad.
Before he landed his role with Mary Tyler Moore, Asner guest-starred in television series including four episodes of The Untouchables starring Robert Stack, the syndicated crime drama Decoy, starring Beverly Garland, and Route 66 in 1962 (the episode titled "Welcome to the Wedding") as Custody Officer Lincoln Peers. He was cast on Jack Lord's ABC drama series Stoney Burke and in the series finale of CBS's The Reporter, starring Harry Guardino. He also appeared on Mr. Novak, Ben Casey, Gunsmoke, Mission: Impossible, The Outer Limits, The Fugitive, and The Invaders. In 1963, Asner appeared as George Johnson on The Virginian in the episode "Echo of Another Day".
1970–1982: The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Lou Grant
Asner was best known for his character Lou Grant, who was first introduced on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1970. In 1977, after Moore's series ended, Asner's character was given his own show, Lou Grant (1977–82). In contrast to the Mary Tyler Moore series, a thirty-minute award-winning comedy about television journalism, the Lou Grant series was an hour-long award-winning drama about newspaper journalism (for his role as Grant, Asner was one of only two actors to win an Emmy Award for a sitcom and a drama for the same role, with the second being Uzo Aduba). In addition he made appearances as Lou Grant on two other shows: Rhoda and Roseanne. Other television series starring Asner in regular roles include Thunder Alley, The Bronx Zoo, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. He also starred in one episode of the western series Dead Man's Gun (1997), as well as portraying art smuggler August March in an episode of the original Hawaii Five-O (1975) and reprised the role in the Hawaii Five-0 (2012) remake. He also appeared as a veteran streetwise officer in an episode of the 1973 version of Police Story.
Asner was acclaimed for his role in the ABC miniseries Roots, as Captain Davies, the morally conflicted captain of the Lord Ligonier, the slave ship that brought Kunta Kinte to America. The role earned Asner an Emmy Award, as did the similarly dark role of Axel Jordache in the miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man (1976). In contrast, he played a former pontiff in the lead role of Papa Giovanni: Ioannes XXIII (Pope John XXIII 2002), an Italian television film for RAI.
1983–2009: Established actor and voice work
Asner had an extensive voice acting career. In 1987, he played the eponymous character, George F. Babbitt, in the L.A. Classic Theatre Works' radio theater production of Sinclair Lewis' novel Babbitt. Asner won one Audie Award and was nominated for two Grammy Awards and an additional Audie for his audiobook work. He also provided the voices for Joshua on Joshua and the Battle of Jericho (1986) for Hanna-Barbera, J. Jonah Jameson on the 1990s animated television series Spider-Man (1994–98); Hoggish Greedly on Captain Planet and the Planeteers (1990–95); Hudson on Gargoyles (1994–96); Jabba the Hutt on the radio version of Star Wars; Master Vrook from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel; Roland Daggett on Batman: The Animated Series (1992–94); Cosgrove on Freakazoid!; Ed Wuncler on The Boondocks (2005–14); and Granny Goodness in various DC Comics animated series. He also voiced Napoleon, Cornelia's younger sister's cat in the Disney show W.I.T.C.H., and Kid Potato, the Butcher's dad in the PBS Kids show hit WordGirl. He was even nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program but lost to Eartha Kitt for Nick Jr. Channel's The Wonder Pets. Asner provided the voice of famed American orator Edward Everett in the 2017 documentary film The Gettysburg Address.
Asner provided the voice of the main protagonist Carl Fredricksen in the Academy Award-winning Pixar film Up (2009). He received critical acclaim for the role, with one critic going so far as to suggest "They should create a new category for this year's Academy Award for Best Vocal Acting in an Animated Film and name Asner as the first recipient." He appeared in the mid- to late-2000s decade in a recurring segment on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, entitled "Does This Impress Ed Asner?" He was cast in a Country Music Television comedy pilot, Regular Joe.
In 2001, Asner was the recipient of the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. Asner won more Emmy Awards for performing than any other male actor (seven, including five for the role of Lou Grant). In 1996, he was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame.
2010–2021: Later roles
In July 2010, Asner completed recording sessions for Shattered Hopes: The True Story of the Amityville Murders; a documentary on the 1974 DeFeo murders in Amityville, New York. Asner served as the narrator for the film, which covers a forensic analysis of the murders, the trial in which 23-year-old DeFeo son Ronald DeFeo Jr., was convicted of the killings, and the subsequent "haunting" story which is revealed to be a hoax. Also in 2010, Asner played the title role in FDR, a stage production about the life of Franklin Delano Roosevelt; he subsequently continued to tour the play throughout the country. In January 2011, Asner took a supporting role on CMT's first original sitcom Working Class. He made an appearance in the independent comedy feature Not Another B Movie, and had a role as billionaire Warren Buffett in HBO's economic drama Too Big to Fail (2011). In 2013, he guest starred as Mr. Finger in The Crazy Ones.
Asner also provided voice-over narration for many documentaries and films about social activism, including Tiger by the Tail, a documentary film detailing the efforts of Eric Mann and the Campaign to keep General Motors' Van Nuys assembly plant running. He also recorded for a public radio show and podcast, Playing On Air, appearing in Warren Leight's The Final Interrogation of Ceaucescu's Dog with Jesse Eisenberg, and Mike Reiss's New York Story. Asner was the voice-over narrator for the 2016 documentary Behind the Fear: The Hidden Story of HIV, directed by Nicole Zwiren, a controversial study on the AIDS debate. A 2014 documentary titled My Friend Ed, directed by Sharon Baker, focused on the actor's life and career. It won Best Short Documentary at the New York City Independent Film Festival. During interviews for a 2019 book on the history of Chicago theater, Asner told the author he preferred to be credited for his work as "Edward" rather than "Ed" because he felt the longer name held the page or screen better.
In 2018, Asner was cast in the Netflix dark comedy, Dead to Me, which premiered on May 3, 2019. The series also stars Christina Applegate, Linda Cardellini, and James Marsden. Asner also had a recurring guest role in the 2018–present series Cobra Kai, portraying Johnny Lawrence's step-father, Sid Weinberg, in seasons one and three. In 2020 he guest starred in an episode of Modern Family and in 2021 played himself in a sketch on Let's Be Real. The 2019 feature documentary by Kurt Jacobsen and Warren Leming entitled Ed Asner: On Stage and Off premiered at the American Documentary Film Festival in Palm Springs, which Asner attended, and since screened at a dozen more festivals, including a European premiere at the Oxford International Film Festival. In 2013, he played Santa in Christmas on the Bayou.
Beginning in 2016, Asner took on the role of Holocaust survivor Milton Salesman in Jeff Cohen's acclaimed play The Soap Myth in a reading at Lincoln Center's Bruno Walter Theatre in New York City. He subsequently toured for the next three years in "concert readings" of the play in more than a dozen cities across the United States. In 2019, PBS flagship station WNET filmed the concert reading at New York's Center for Jewish History for their All Arts channel. The performance, which is available for free, world-wide live-streaming, co-stars Tovah Feldshuh, Ned Eisenberg, and Liba Vaynberg.
In the week before his death, Asner told his frequent collaborators, Greg Palast and Leni Badpenny, that he soon would be doing three one-act plays. At the time of his death in August 2021, Asner had completed several roles in a number of TV series and films that were released posthumously, including three on the Disney+ streaming service, he reprised his voice role as Carl Fredricksen from the Pixar film Up in the Disney+ animated streaming miniseries of shorts Dug Days, which was the first to premiere, just three days after his death. Asner played a posthumous role as the Ghost of Claude in the Halloween special Muppets Haunted Mansion and provided the voice of Grandpa Heffley in the 2022 Disney+ animated film adaptation Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, released over a year after his death. The final short film in the Dug Days series, Carl's Date, which includes Asner's voice-over performance, was released in theaters along with the Pixar animated feature film Elemental on June 16, 2023, two years after his death. These were all dedicated to his memory. Many of Asner's other projects on what would become his final roles are yet to be announced for a release, but still in post-production.
He played a prominent role in the 1980 SAG strike. He was also active in a variety of other causes, such as the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal and the movement to establish California One Care, single-payer health care in California, for which he created a television advertisement. He endorsed Dennis Kucinich in the 2004 United States presidential election, and Barack Obama during the 2008 United States presidential election. He was formerly a member of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) and was a member of DSOC's successor, the Democratic Socialists of America.
The sudden cancellation of Lou Grant in 1982 was the subject of much controversy. The show had high ratings, being in the ACNielsen top ten throughout its final month on the air. However, the CBS television network declined to renew it. Asner believed that his left-wing political views, as well as the publicity surrounding them, were the actual root causes for the show's cancellation. In 2011, Asner endorsed Democratic candidate Marcy Winograd who finished 4th in the 16-candidate primary behind eventual winner Janice Hahn, in California's 36th congressional district special election. From 2011 to 2015, Asner worked with filmmaker Nicole Zwiren on the feature-length documentary Behind the Fear which addresses HIV/AIDS denialism. The film was released in 2016 with Asner as the narrator.
Anser endorsed 9/11 conspiracy theories, including voicing qualified support for the 9/11 truth movement. In 2004, he signed a statement released by the group 9/11 Truth that included a call for a new investigation into some elements of the September 11 attacks that he questioned. Asner confirmed his support for the statement in 2009. In April 2004, Asner wrote an open letter to "peace and justice leaders" encouraging them to demand "full 9–11 truth" through the organization 9-11 Visibility Project. In 2011, Asner hosted the Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth documentary on the collapse of 7 World Trade Center, which endorses the theory that the building was taken down by controlled demolition. Asner also narrated the documentary film The Oil Factor: Behind the War on Terror.
Asner was on the Entertainment Board of Directors for The Survivor Mitzvah Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing direct emergency aid to elderly and impoverished Holocaust survivors in Eastern Europe. Asner was a member of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a free speech organization that is dedicated to protecting comic book creators and retailers from prosecutions based on content. He served as an advisor to the Rosenberg Fund for Children, an organization founded by the children of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, which provides benefits for the children of political activists, and was a board member for the wildlife conservation organization Defenders of Wildlife. Asner also sat on the advisory board for Exceptional Minds, a non-profit school and a computer animation studio for young adults on the autism spectrum.
Asner was a supporter of Humane Borders, an organization based in Tucson, Arizona, which maintains water stations in the Sonoran desert for use by undocumented migrants, with the goal of preventing deaths by dehydration and exposure. He was the master of ceremonies at that organization's volunteer dinner in fall 2017.
In November 2017, The Ed Asner Family Center was founded by Asner's son, Matt, and daughter-in-law, Navah Paskowitz. The Center provides arts and vocational enrichments, counseling services, and support groups and camps to special needs individuals and their families.
On March 30, 2012, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) completed a merger of equals, forming a new union SAG-AFTRA. Asner was adamantly opposed to such a merger, arguing that the planned merger would destroy the SAG's health plan and disempower actors. Asner and a group of fellow actors and voice-actors, including Martin Sheen and Ed Harris, filed (but later dropped) a lawsuit against SAG president Ken Howard and several SAG vice presidents, seeking to have the merger overturned, and the two unions separated to their pre-merger organizations.
Personal life and death
Asner was married to Nancy Lou Sykes from 1959 to 1988. They had three children, twins Matthew and Liza, and Kate. In 1987, he had a son named Charles with Carol Jean Vogelman. Asner was a parent and a grandparent to autistic children and was involved with the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization Autism Speaks. He also served as a board member and adviser for Aspiritech, a nonprofit organization that trains high-functioning autistic persons to test software and perform quality-assurance services for companies.
Asner died of natural causes at his home in the Tarzana neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on August 29, 2021, at the age of 91. He was buried at Sheffield Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri, on September 12.
Numerous celebrities paid tribute to Asner, including Maureen McCormick, George Takei, Mark Hamill, Michael McKean, Bradley Whitford, Josh Gad, Mia Farrow, Andy Richter, Katie Couric, Denis O'Hare, Mira Sorvino, Eric Stonestreet, Niecy Nash, Yvette Nicole Brown, Michael Moore, Rosario Dawson, Rosanna Arquette, Ben Stiller, The Muppets, William Baldwin, Greg Weisman, William Zabka, Ralph Macchio, Bob Peterson, Bill Farmer, and Zooey Deschanel.
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Fett ... took part in the 'Does This Impress Ed Asner?' segment.
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