R.I.P. Ed Asner, TV legend, star of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Lou Grant
He held the record for the most Emmy awards of any male performer and shaped Chicago's improv scene. He was 91.
Ed Asner, the entertainment icon known by millions as Lou Grant of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its successful spinoff, Lou Grant, passed peacefully in his home on Sunday, August 29, 2021. He was 91 years old.
"You've got spunk." That's what Asner as Lou Grant tells Mary Richards when she walks into his office to interview for a job that he's already filled on the first episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. "I hate spunk," he says, when Mary foolishly takes the comment for a good thing. Of course, he hires Mary anyway, for a job he "wanted a man for," and that began one of TV history's best workplace friendships of all time.
But before he met Mary Tyler Moore in a sitcom that would shape the landscape of TV, he was already making changes in Chicago's entertainment industry that would last for decades. Chicago has a legendary improv comedy scene that has produced many of today's top comedians. Asner was one of the first performers to come from what would become the Second City. After serving in the military, Asner joined the Playwrights Theatre Club. The group eventually turned into the Compass Players, which later morphed into The Second City.
While Lou Grant was skeptical about hiring Mary, it was Mary Tyler Moore who would hand-pick Asner for the role that would rocket him into TV legends. "I read as I thought they wanted to hear me read, and they laughed and said the appropriate 'Thank you, we’ll be in touch,'" Asner said. "From what I heard, after I left, Mary turned to them and, with a tremendously screwed-up face, said, 'Are you sure?' I don’t blame her for asking the question that way, because it was a meshuggeneh reading. The producers then said to her, 'That’s your Lou Grant.'"
Asner would go on to have the rare honor of being the only actor to win a comedy and drama Primetime Emmy as the same role, which he picked up as Lou Grant. Furthermore, he would become the most awarded male performer in Emmy history with seven wins, five of them being for his role as Grant.
Younger generations might know Asner better as his emotional voice acting role of Carl Fredricksen in the Oscar-winning animaed movie, Up. Additionally, he joined the ranks of holiday movie classics when he appeared as Santa Claus in the 2003 Will Ferrell movie, Elf. This was only one of five times he donned the red suit; he also wore it on an episode of Highway to Heaven (1986), The Story of Santa Claus (1996), Olive, the Other Reindeer (1999), and The Ellen Show (2001).
In 2001, he was awarded the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Acheivement Award.
His legacy will live on with The Ed Asner Family Center, launched in 2017 by Asner’s son, Matt Asner, and daughter-in-law Navah Paskowitz Asner. The center provides counseling services, support groups, enrichment programs and camps to special needs individuals and their families.