New York Daily News: MANHATTAN – Ed Asner, a self-described Hollywood lefty whose Lou Grant character gave every American worker hope that the boss really does have a heart, died Sunday, surrounded by loved ones, his family said.
He was 91.
“We are sorry to say that our beloved patriarch passed away this morning peacefully,” his family said in a statement through his Twitter account. “Words cannot express the sadness we feel. With a kiss on your head- Goodnight dad. We love you.”
Asner won seven Emmy Awards, five for playing the crusty Grant on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and later on his own “Lou Grant.” He was the only actor to win Emmys for playing the same character on both a sitcom and a drama. The Lou Grant persona, a character who camouflaged his emotions with a gruff exterior, sometimes overshadowed Asner’s other acclaimed work. That included Emmy-winning roles as slave ship master Captain Davies in the miniseries “Roots” and Axel Jordache in the miniseries “Rich Man, Poor Man.”
Asner also made headlines for his political activism, including high-profile campaigns to free American journalist and activist Mumia Abu-Jamal and institute single-payer health insurances. As a two-time president of the Screen Actors Guild, he helped lead a 1980 SAG strike. But when “Lou Grant” was cancelled in 1982 despite high ratings, there was widespread suspicion that CBS wanted to distance itself from Asner’s politics.
His activism “created a conflict which eventually led to a good deal of controversy and I think achieved the cancellation of the ‘Lou Grant’ show,” Asner told Canadian radio station CJAD in a 1995 interview. He said he thought CBS Chairman William Paley made the final call on the cancellation. He also said he accepted the decision as just business and added that he wasn’t bitter, noting he subsequently worked at CBS again.
Born in Kansas City to Russian immigrant parents, Asner was raised an Orthodox Jew and attended the University of Chicago. After serving in the Army Signal Corps, Asner moved to New York and in the mid-1950s joined Compass, the comedy troupe that preceded Second City. He played Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum in a revival of “Threepenny Opera” on Broadway and gradually began getting roles in a number of television shows.
When he saw the script for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” he said, “I knew it was a winner. This was gold.” He said he drew on various people he knew, including his brother, to play the demanding and often-exasperated Grant, who had to manage a newsroom that included Moore and a wacky group of co-workers.
The followup drama “Lou Grant” put his character in a more serious world, though with many of the same temperament issues and some flaws, including a drinking problem. Asner remained active in acting for the remainder of his life, though he suggested his political activism limited his opportunities.
”There’s still some resistance to putting me in movies,” he said in 1995. He often joked that he was considered Hollywood’s “resident communist.”
His later roles included a 2012 episode of “Hawaii Five-O,” reprising the August March role he had created on the original incarnation of the show in 1975. He frequently did voiceover work, most prominently as Carl Frederickson in the 2009 animated “Up.” Recently, he made appearances in shows like “Cobra Kai,” “Grace and Frankie” and the upcoming anthology series “The Premise.”
He had more than a dozen upcoming projects in various forms of production when he died.
Asner maintained his activism and was a long-time worker with Autism Speaks. He joined fellow actors like Martin Sheen and Woody Harrelson in the “9/11 Truth Movement,” which made a film calling for a new investigation into the attacks on Sept. 11.
Asner was married to Nancy Sykes from 1959 to 1988. They had three children. They divorced after it was revealed Asner had another child in 1987 with Carol Jean Vogelman. He married Cindy Gilmore in 1998 and they divorced in 2007.
He is survived by four children.