"Edward Asner toiled for years on stage, radio, and television without recognition when The Mary Tyler Moore Show made him a household name," film critic Leonard Maltin told ET. "He rode that wave for decades to follow, never failing to deliver first-rate performances in both comedies and dramas. Clearly, he loved to act and just as clearly he cared about his fellow actors."
"I had the pleasure of first meeting Mr. Asner in the late 70s as we were both invited to a mutual friend's house to break the Yom Kippur fast. I was about 15 or so and we had an amazing conversation on the craft of acting, the actor's commitment, and how "no" is the most empowering word in an actor's vocabulary. I got to work with him a few times on cartoons, most memorably on Spider-Man: The Animated Series. Watching Asner play J. Jonah Jameson was a master class in acting. He happened to sound like Lou Grant, but Asner brought layer and character that was pure Jameson. Although I got to work on the film Up we never had recording sessions together. But I was later able to get some chat time with him to discuss his charming performance in this film. A great life and career!" Bob Bergen said.
Lucie Arnaz shared, "Ed was what we in the business like to refer to as 'An Actor's Actor.' Both my husband, Larry Luckinbill, and I had enormous respect for him and his body of work. He was the real deal."
John Barbour, Jamie Farr, Dee Wallace, Ruta Lee, Frances Fisher, Erin Murphy, Loretta Swit, Mike Farrell, Lee Purcell, Barry Livingston and more also shared their condolences.
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, in addition to serving in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. prior to becoming an actor. Asner went on to join the Chicago Theater company in addition to making 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 in 1957. From there, 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 Hitchock 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 Buns and James L. Brooks, The Mary Tyler Moore Show followed protagonist, Mary Tyler Moore, through her career 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 came to an end in 1977. The series produced the spin-offs, Phyllis, starring Leachman, Rhoda, starring Harper, and Lou Grant, starring Asner.
During his tenure on Mary Tyler Moore, Asner won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of a slave ship captain in Alex Haley’s Rootsminiseries. He went on to star in Lou Grant from 1977 until 1982. After the end of the series, 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 Planetand 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 that Asner first portrayed 37 years earlier.
In 2017, 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 prodigious 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 not 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. The former couple welcomed three children, Kate, Matthew, and Liza. Not long after the divorce, Asner had a second son, Charles, with his ex-girlfriend, Carol Jean Vogelman. The baby news was exposed in 1988, in a divorce settlement between Vogelman and her ex-husband.
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.
Here are some of the many tributes being shared in Asner's memory:
To know Ed, even a little, was a privilege. You could not find a more honorable person. He will be missed. Love to his wonderful family. https://t.co/uhSsdDDkC8
Devastated to hear this news. What a legend. What a beautiful human and special friend. I learned so much from him. My love and deepest condolences to the Asner family #RIP Dear Ed @TheOnlyEdAsner 💔 🙌🏼 https://t.co/5pfDJuMR2t
One of the joys of my life was having Ed Asner as my Dad. He kindly said yes to doing my first screenplay. It was a crazy shoot and he showed up every day ready to go. He loved being an actor and I loved him. #RIPEdAsnerpic.twitter.com/2Q2WzXli42
Ed Asner, who won seven Emmy awards including five for the unforgettable role of Lou Grant, has passed away. He was a giant on the screen, and a philanthropist, too. A man of true heart and talent. He will be missed.
Making my 1st film, Roger & Me, I was broke so I wrote to some famous people to ask for help. Only one responded: Ed Asner. “I don’t know you, kid, but here’s 500 bucks” said the note attached to the check. “Sounds like it’ll be a great film. I was an autoworker once.” R.I.P. Ed pic.twitter.com/AuGCNlyNnC
Had the privilege of locking eyes with #EdAsner on Studio 60 and it meant a lot to me because I grew up loving him and he was one of those rare actors who just shot straight. He couldn’t help it. Rest In Peace, sir. Well done.
The great Ed Asner.@TheOnlyEdAsner What an inspiration he was to me as a young actor. Not to mention the years of laughs he brought into my household when I was kid. Thank you Ed. My heart goes out to his family and friends. pic.twitter.com/qb0W98Gwvu
Oh this hurts. 💔💔💔💔💔🌹🌹🌹🌹🌹🌹 Rest In Peace Ed. Not only an iconic award winning actor but a humanitarian and someone who I worked closely with to support #Autism families. Just crushing. #EdAsnerpic.twitter.com/9wUwYZxQkJ