LOS ANGELES (AP) – Ed Asner, the burly and prolific character actor who became a star in middle age as the gruff but lovable newsman Lou Grant, first in the hit TV news comedy “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and later in the newspaper drama “Lou Grant,” has died. He was 91.
Asner’s representative confirmed the actor’s death in an email to The Associated Press. Asner’s 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- Goodnight dad. We love you.”
Built like the football lineman he once was, the balding Asner was a journeyman actor in films and TV when he was hired in 1970 to play Lou Grant on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” For seven seasons he was the rumpled boss to Moore’s ebullient Mary Richards (He called her “Mary,” she called him “Mr. Grant”) at the fictional Minneapolis TV newsroom where both worked. Later, he would play the role of a newspaper editor for five years on “Lou Grant.”
The part brought Asner three best supporting actor Emmys on “Mary Tyler Moore” and two best actor awards on “Lou Grant.” He also won Emmys for his roles in the miniseries “Rich Man, Poor Man” (1975-1976) and “Roots” (1976-1977).
He had more than 300 acting credits and remained active throughout his 70s and 80s in a variety of film and TV roles. In 2003, he played Santa Claus in Will Ferrell’s hit film “Elf.”
He was John Goodman’s father in the short-lived 2004 CBS comedy “Center of the Universe” and the voice of the elderly hero in the hit 2009 Pixar release, “Up.” More recently, he was in such TV series as “Forgive Me” and “Dead to Me.”
Nonetheless, Asner told The Associated Press in 2009 that interesting roles were hard to come by.
“I never get enough work,” he said. “It’s the history of my career. There just isn’t anything to turn down, let me put it that way.”
“I’d say most people are probably in that same boat, old people, and it’s a shame,” he said.
As Screen Actors Guild president, the liberal Asner was caught up in a political controversy in 1982 when he spoke out against U.S. involvement with repressive governments in Latin America. “Lou Grant” was canceled during the furor that followed and he did not run for a third SAG term in 1985.
Asner discussed his politicization in a 2002 interview, noting he had begun his career during the McCarthy era and for years had been afraid to speak out for fear of being blacklisted.
Then he saw a nun’s film depicting the cruelties inflicted by El Salvador’s government on that country’s citizens.
“I stepped out to complain about our country’s constant arming and fortifying of the military in El Salvador, who were oppressing their people,” he said.
Former SAG President Charlton Heston and others accused him of making un-American statements and of misusing his position as head of their actors union.
“We even had bomb threats at the time. I had armed guards,” Asner recalled.
The actor blamed the controversy for ending the five-year run of “Lou Grant,” although CBS insisted declining ratings were the reason the show was canceled.
Late Associated Press writer Bob Thomas contributed biographical information to this report.