Ed Asner, best known for playing the gruff but lovable news editor Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and his own spin-off series, died at age 91 on August 29.
News of the star’s passing came from his family, who posted to his Twitter account on Sunday: “We are sorry to say that our beloved patriarch passed away this morning peacefully. Words cannot express the sadness we feel.”
Just weeks before his death, Ed Asner said he wasn’t ready to go yet.
“If the good Lord is in a generous mood, he can give me another 91 years and I can show the world what I can do,” he told Closer.
He also revealed his biggest ‘regret’ in life, just weeks before his passing…
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock
Ed Asner was born in Kansas City, Missouri on November 15, 1929, to Jewish immigrant parents. He developed an interest in acting while working other jobs, and was drafted into the Army in 1951, serving with the U.S. Army Signal Corps.
After his service, he pursued a professional acting career, and became part of the theater scene in Chicago and later New York, appearing in Broadway and Off-Broadway plays.
Asner soon established himself as an on-screen character actor with appearances in shows like The Outer Limits and Mission Impossible, as well as the Elvis Presley film Kid Galahad and the John Wayne western El Dorado.
‘Mary Tyler Moore’
But it was his role as Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show that cemented Asner as a TV legend.
Lou Grant, the news director of WJM-TV, was the boss of series protagonist Mary Richards. Asner was initially hesitant he could pull off the sitcom role.
“I didn’t really put my toe into the water of comedy until I went up to read for ‘Mary Tyler Moore.’ I was afraid of it,” Asner said in a 1995 interview, according to Reuters. “Not that I couldn’t do an initial spark of humor but I didn’t know how to maintain it.”
But as played by Asner, Grant’s gruff persona made him a perfect comedic foil to the other characters. “You’ve got spunk… I hate spunk!” he tells Mary in the pilot episode.
But over seven seasons of the classic sitcom, we see Lou Grant’s heart shine through, and the character became a fan favorite, an integral part of one of the most successful sitcoms of its era.
“He was a beautiful actor,” the show’s creator James L. Brooks recalled to Variety. “He was an able team player. He was just as deeply a good guy as everybody sensed he was.”
“When Lou said ‘Mary come in to my office,’ we were never on more solid ground.”
Asner won three Emmy Awards for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. But when the series ended in 1977, it still wasn’t the last audiences would see of Lou Grant.
The character got his own spin-off titled Lou Grant, premiering in 1977. Not only was it one of the few successful TV spin-offs, but it’s unusual in that the show was a totally different format than The Mary Tyler Moore Show: Lou Grant was an hour-long drama that often tackled the issues of the day.
The show was a major critical hit, winning the Emmy Award for Best Drama Series twice, and Asner won two awards for Best Leading Actor in a Drama Series — making him the first person to win Emmys for comedy and drama for the same role.
Asner also had roles in two hit TV miniseries: Rich Man, Poor Man and Roots, both of which earned him Emmy awards.
With seven acting Emmys over his career, Asner holds the record as the most-awarded male actor.
Asner was also known for his political activism, and was frequently outspoken about a number of liberal causes. He was the President of the Screen Actors Guild for two terms.
“He really cared about the causes he got involved in,” Brooks told Variety. “People respected that someone at his level cared to get involved at all.”
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com
Asner, a father of four and grandfather of 10, continued to act well into old age. In addition to a huge number of voice-acting credits in children’s cartoons, he recently appeared in shows like Dead to Me, Cobra Kai, Modern Family, and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
And two film roles in beloved family films introduced him to generations too young to remember Lou Grant: he played Santa Claus in the 2003 comedy Elf, and voiced the lead role of Carl Fredricksen, the elderly man who ties balloons to his house to fly on an adventure, in the Pixar film Up.
Ed Asner, legendary actor and voice of Carl from “Up,” has passed away at 91.
May he rest easy 🎈🕊 pic.twitter.com/3BKqjpudD6
— Complex (@Complex) August 29, 2021
Hollywood remembers an icon
After news of Asner’s death in August, many in Hollywood who knew and worked with him shared tributes on social media.
Sending love to The great Ed Asner’s family. An icon because he was such a beautiful, funny and totally honest actor. No one like him. https://t.co/GgI4pY4aCH
— Ben Stiller (@RedHourBen) August 30, 2021
— Marie Osmond (@marieosmond) August 30, 2021
Ed Asners biggest regret
Ed, who could be very honest, lived his life to the fullest – but also admitted that he had made some serious mistakes in life.
Speaking with Closer, just weeks before his death, he confessed that he regretted the break-up with Nancy Sykes, his ex-wife. Asner was married to Nancy Sykes from 1959 to 1988 and they had three children, twins Matthew and Liza, and Kate.
The couple divorced in 1988 – but Asner had a love affair with Carol Jean Vogelman, from 1986 to 1988, while he was still married. He fathered a son with his lover but that child, Charles Edward Vogelman, was solely raised by his mother.
Charles and Ed reconnected later in life – but Ed always regretted that he was unfaithful to Nancy Sykes.
“I cheated on my wife and I lost her. I will always regret that loss,” Ed told Closer.
Rest in peace to the incredible Ed Asner. From Lou Grant and beyond, he made a huge impact on television and will be remembered for generations.
He was such a good actor no matter what roll he starred in!
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