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Ed Asner, Emmy-award Winning Actor, 91

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August 29, 2021
Edward Asner accepts the Lifetime Achievement Award onstage during The Humane Society Of The United States’ Los Angeles Benefit Gala at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on May 16, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for The Humane Society Of The U.S.)

Ed Asner,  the only actor to have won an Emmy for playing the same character on two different TV series, died Sunday morning (Aug. 29) at his home in Tarzana at the age of 91.

The cause of his death was not specified.

Although he appeared in over 200 movies and TV shows, Asner will be best remembered as the blustering but warm-hearted newsman in the TV comedy “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and its successor drama, “Lou Grant.” In the latter, he played the tough city editor of the fictitious Los Angeles Tribune.

Edward David Asner was born in Kansas City, Mo., in 1929, the youngest of five children of Orthodox immigrants. His father, Morris David Asner, was a junkyard owner and his mother Lizzi (Seliger) was a native of Russia.

“We were Midwestern Orthodoxy,” Asner recalled. ‘My mother didn’t wear a  sheitel and my father drove to shul. I was raised to believe that giving back to your community is the good and right way above all, and that were needed to uphold the faith, and if we upheld it, we would be doing right.”

Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1951, Asner served in France and was discharged in 1953.  He married Nancy Sykes in 1959. They had three children: twins Matthew and Liza, and Kate. They divorced in 1988, a year after fathered had a son, Charles, with Carol Jean Vogelman. Ten years later, he married Cindy Gilmore, a producer. They separated in 2007 and formally divorced in 2015.

Asner almost became a newsman in real life. He studied journalism at the University of Chicago until a professor told him that there was little money to be made in that profession. He quickly switched to drama.

He started out in smaller roles, supporting John Wayne and Robert Mitchum in 1967’s “El Dorado” and Elvis Presley in 1969’s “Change of Habit.” On TV, he made guest appearances on “Route 66,” “The Untouchables,” “The Mod Squad,” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

His audition for the role that made him famous did not go well. “Mary Tyler Moore Show” co-creator James Brooks told Variety that a few minutes after he auditioned,  “Asner came bustling back into the room and earnestly asked to do it again. ‘I can do it so much better than that.’”  Brooks also called Asner “a beautiful actor…He was an able team player. He was just as deeply a good guy as everybody sensed he was.”

From 1981 to 1985, Asner served as president of the Screen Actors Guild. In 1982 hedonated $25,000 for medical aid to the guerillas in, who were fighting the U.S.-backed right wing military government in El Salvador.

For this action, Asner was widely criticized. His response: “I have an obligation to speak out for the cause of justice and to protest human misery and will continue to do so.”

A month later CBS cancelled “Lou Grant,” claiming the show was losing its punch.

Current SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris praised Asner’s activism. “There have been few actors of Ed Asner’s prominence who risked their status to fight for social causes the way Ed did. He fought passionately for his fellow actors, both before, during and after his SAG presidency. But his concern did not stop with performers. He fought for victims of poverty, violence, war, and legal and social injustice, both in the United States and around the globe.”

Asner also took a role weighed in on the debate over the future of Israel, telling the Journal in 2005  “I think, just as we are learning in Iraq now, that the greatest power on earth can’t necessarily command peace.”

“Imposing a peace is not as precious as winning by compromise and peaceful, cooperative talks….”I’m amazed by Israel’s militaristic achievements and accomplishments, and yet I think I gloried more at the Jewish image of the Children of the Book. I can only hope that when a peace is finally arrived at in the Middle East, Israel can beat some of those swords into plowshares and return to being the great light of the world the Jews have always been.”

Asner won seven Emmy Awards: Three times as supporting actor in a comedy for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” twice as lead actor in a drama for “Lou Grant,” and once each for his roles in “Rich Man, Poor Man” and “Roots.”

His comic turn in Will Farrell’s “Elf” and voicing the irascible Carl Friedricksen in Pixar’s 2009’s hit “Up” introduced Asner to a new generation.

Asner is survived by his four children, twins Matthew and Liza, daughter Kate and son Charles.

In the announcement of Edward Asner’s death, his official Twitter account included a note 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—Good night, dad. We love you.”

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