A family member of Ed Asner confirmed his death on his Twitter account on Sunday, August 29, 2021.
“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,” the tweet read.
Asner, a former president of the Screen Actors Guild who enjoyed a career of more than 60 years, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on Nov. 15, 1929. Asner grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, and attended Wyandotte High School, followed by the University of Chicago.
He also worked on the assembly line at General Motors and served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Before becoming an actor. Asner went on to join the Chicago Theater company and make guest appearances with the Compass Players and the coveted Second City. After moving to New York City, he eventually scored his first Broadway gig.
Asher made his TV debut in the 1957 Emmy-winning TV series Studio One in Hollywood 1957. Ed Asner debuted on Broadway debut in the 1960 production of Face of a Hero alongside Jack Lemmon. His early acting credits, including appearing on The Outer Limits, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Eleventh Hour, The Fugitive, Gunsmoke, and The Untouchables, before he scored the coveted multi-Emmy winning role as Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which debuted in 1970.
Created by Allan Burns and James L. Brooks, The Mary Tyler Moore Show followed protagonist Mary Tyler Moore as an associate producer on a fictional Minnesota TV station. Asner portrayed Moore’s boss, Lou Grant. The all-star cast also featured Valerie Harper, Gavin MacLeod, Betty White, and Cloris Leachman.
After seven seasons and 29 Primetime Emmys, The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended in 1977. The series produced Phyllis’s spin-offs, starring Leachman, Rhoda, starring Harper, and Lou Grant, starring Asner.
During his tenure with Mary Tyler Moore, Asner won an Emmy Award for portraying a slave ship captain in Alex Haley’s Roots miniseries.
He went on to star in Lou Grant from 1977 until 1982. After the end of the series, Ed Asner took on a recurring role in the sitcom Off the Rack, the miniseries Tender Is the Night, and the 1988 NBC drama, The Bronx Zoo, which aired for only one season. Asner went on to snag appearances on hit shows like Mad About You. and a role in the Oscar-winning film JFK.
Working in animation was another successful avenue for Asner, as he voiced characters on the likes of Animaniacs, Fish Police, Gargoyles, Captain Planet, and the Planeteers, The Simpsons, Recess, The Cleveland Show, Spongebob Square Pants, American Dad, The Magic School Bus, The Wild Thornberrys, and Max Steele. Asner also played the main character in Disney Pixar’s 2009 animated hit, Up.
The latter half of Asner’s career added Touched by an Angel, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Practice, The X-Files, Dharma & Greg, ER, The Good Wife, and more to his long resume. Asner scored another memorable role as Santa Claus in the cult classic holiday comedy Elf and reprised his role as a diamond smuggler in the 2012 reboot of Hawaii Five-0, a character Asner first portrayed 37 years earlier.
In 2017, Ed Asner and the Mary Tyler Moore cast mourned the death of Moore, who was diagnosed with diabetes decades earlier and died from cardiopulmonary arrest while fighting pneumonia.
“Her diabetes was certainly very evident…but what a prodigiously hard worker,” Asner told ET at the time of Moore’s dedication to her craft. “Instead of lunch, she had a dance class. She showed up large on the stage, and she made deep footprints whenever she walked.” Asner had similarly kind words for Harper following her brain cancer diagnosis.
Like Moore and Harper, Asner enjoyed making audiences laugh. Aside from being briefly hospitalized for exhaustion in 2013, Asner appeared in good health and worked until the end of his life.
In one of his final interviews, Asner showed no signs of retiring. “I’m doing it to stay alive,” he told the Tampa Bay Times in April 2019 while promoting his run in the traveling play, The Soap Myth. “The creative aspect keeps me younger. And to leave a legacy of some modest proportion to my kids.”
The twice-divorced father of four was also a longtime autism advocate after his son was diagnosed with the disease, followed by three grandchildren. Asner was married to his first wife, Nancy Sykes, from 1959 until 1988. As a couple, they welcomed three children to the family. Kate, Matthew, and Liza. Asner had a second son, Charles, not long after the divorce, with his ex-girlfriend, Carol Jean Vogelman.
In 1998, Asner married producer Cindy Gilmore after a seven-year engagement. The couple legally separated in 2007 and divorced in 2015.
Despite the shift in his personal life, Asner continued to work regularly. At the tail end of his career, Asner landed guest spots on the Netflix comedies Grace & Frankie and Dead to Me and more than a dozen other acting roles.