Ed Asner, the seven-time Emmy Award-winning actor best known for portraying gruff newsman Lou Grant on two different, iconic television shows, died Sunday, his family and a representative announced Sunday.
He was 91.
Asner, who also endeared himself to a new generation of fans by playing a grumpy Santa in the 2003 movie “Elf” and was the voice the grieving widower in the animated 2009 movie “Up,” was with his family when he died.
“We are sorry to say that our beloved patriarch passed away this morning peacefully,” his family said on Twitter. “Words cannot express the sadness we feel. With a kiss on your head — Goodnight dad. We love you.”
A representative for Asner, Charles Sherman, told NBC News in a statement on Sunday that he “passed away today peacefully surrounded by family.”
Inducted into the Emmys Hall of Fame in 1996, Asner took home seven statues in his long acting career — five of them for portraying Grant. He won consecutive Emmys for best supporting actor in a comedy series in 1971 and 1972, playing Grant on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
His persona’s jaded, no-nonsense demeanor made for TV magic when paired with “The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s” lead character Mary Richards, who was kind and earnest to a fault.
That chemistry was on full display in the first episode of “MTM” in an iconic scene when Asner’s Grant appears to compliment Moore’s Richards: “You know what? You got spunk.”
As the bashful Richards soaked up that apparent accolade, Asner’s Grant growled back with a piece of comic timing that’s still revered in TV history: “I hate spunk!”
“This is a stinking lie because I love spunk,” Asner told “TODAY’s” Al Roker in 2017, joyfully reflecting on that famed scene.
The character was so popular that when “MTM” ended its great run in 1977, the grouchy Grant was revived as newspaper man “Lou Grant” that very fall. In that show, Asner’s Grant was city editor of the fictional Los Angeles Tribune for five seasons.
He was the same grouch but this time in a dramatic show.
And he was still a hit, as Asner took home Emmy honors for best lead actor in a drama series for “Lou Grant” in 1978 and 1980
Asner told “TODAY” that the Grant character worked because everyone knows such a lovable and sage grump.
“He’s the avuncular person we all know in life who we tolerate at first and then learn that he’s not such a monster,” Asner told Roker.
There were few roles, comedy or drama, that were beyond Asner’s wide range.
Asner took home a 1976 Emmy for best lead actor for a single performance, playing the father in the hit mini-series “Rich Man, Poor Man.”
Younger movie fans embraced Asner as the voice of cranky widower Carl Fredricksen in the 2009 Oscar-nominated animated movie “Up.”
At the time of “Up’s” success, Asner said he wished there were more roles for older actors.
“I keep telling people that I’m a better actor now than I’ve ever been in my life, in my ability to choose and my ability to interpret,” Asner said.
“I’d say most people are probably in that same boat, old people, and it’s a shame that they’re not given the opportunity to demonstrate that intelligence along with their emotion, that it’s not utilized.”
Looking back on his long career, Asner said he had no preference between comedy or drama — but admitted he enjoyed immediate gratification of audience laughter.
“I never thought I was good at comedy. When I found out I could get some laughs I concentrated on it,” Asner told WGN radio in April, 2020. “It’s (comedy) much more rewarding, I must say. In drama it’s quiet, you think the point is sinking it. It’s possible they’re just asleep.”
Asner was never shy to express his opinion was one of Hollywood’s leading liberal voices, as president of the Screen Actors Guild between 1981 and 1985, a time often spent criticizing a former SAG president, Ronald Reagan.
The actor has long blamed conservative activists connected to Reagan with the surprising 1982 cancellation of “Lou Grant.” Not long before the show was taken off the air, Asner helped formed a group that rushed medical supplies to rebels in El Salvador.
Over the years, Asner spoke passionately about civil rights, gun control, organized labor, separation of church and state and in opposition to capital punishment.
“Oh, I don’t think there’s any question” political activism brought a pre-mature end to “Lou Grant,” Asner told the Desert News in late 1990. “I was sorry to get the show canceled because of it. But I’m not sorry I took a stand.”
Yitzhak Edward Asner was born on Nov. 15, 1929 in Kansas City, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants Lizzie Seliger and Morris David Asner.
Asner had four children: Matthew, Kate and Liza Asner, his three offspring with first wife Nancy Sykes; and Charles Answer, a son he had with then-partner Carol Vogelman.
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