Ed Asner, Star of ‘Mary Tyler Moore’ and ‘Up,’ Dies at 91
The world lost one of its most-beloved screen icons this weekend when multiple Emmy winner Ed Asner passed away. Asner was known to generations of film and TV fans for a variety of roles, but he was probably most famous as the gruff journalist Lou Grant, first as a supporting character on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and then as the lead of his own spinoff, Lou Grant.
Asner’s death was announced on his official Twitter account by his family, who wrote that he “passed away this morning peacefully. Words cannot express the sadness we feel.” Asner was 91 years old.
Asner served in the U.S. Signal Corps, then began working in theater. Some of his early TV work included guest spots on The Outer Limits and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. He worked steadily in TV through the 1960s, but his biggest role came when he was cast as Lou Grant, the grumpy boss of Mary Tyler Moore’s Mary Richards at the fictional TV station WJM.
Asner co-starred on all seven seasons of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and when it went off the air in 1977, he got his own spinoff. In an usual move then and now, while Mary Tyler Moore was a light and upbeat 30-minute sitcom, Lou Grant was an hourlong drama series, with Grant leaving his job as a TV producer to become the editor of a Los Angeles newspaper. Asner ultimately won five Emmy awards as Grant; three four The Mary Tyler Moore Show and two for Lou Grant, making him the first actor in history to win Emmys for a sitcom and a drama for the same role. (To date, he’s one of only two actors to accomplish that feat; Uzo Aduba is the other.)
While Asner worked steadily all through the 1980s and ’90s, many of his biggest roles later in life came as a voice talent in animated films and television series. Comic book fans would recognize him as the voice of J. Jonah Jameson in the 1990s Spider-Man and as corrupt businessman Roland Daggett in Batman: The Animated Series. His signature vocal role was as the cantankerous widower Carl Fredricksen in Pixar’s Up.
Asner remained busy until his final days; in recent years, he made appearances on Grace and Frankie, Dead to Me, Doom Patrol, Modern Family, Blue Bloods, and more. In fact, he will reprise his role as Carl from Up in a new animated series on Disney+ called Dug Days that’s set to debut on the streaming service next week.
It is hard to imagine anyone else but Asner as the surly but lovable Carl — and for some 50 years, it was exactly that sort of character that Asner played better than just about anyone. He may be gone now, but people will remember him for as long they make films and television series about lovably irascible men — a character that might as well be known as an “Ed Asner type” from now on.