Ed Asner

On this date in 1929, actor Edward (né Etye) Asner was born in Kansas City, Mo., to Lizzie (née Seliger), a housewife, and Morris Asner, who ran a junkyard and secondhand shop. His Orthodox Jewish parents were born in Russia.

Asner didn’t like Judaism as a child, feeling it alienated him from his peers in public school when he wanted to be “the regular Joe that everybody else was. I resented it and wanted to put it behind me as fast as I could.” (Fox News interview, Nov. 15, 2012)

After attending the University of Chicago from 1947-49, he worked on the assembly line for General Motors and served with the U.S. Army Signal Corps in Europe. He helped found the Playwrights Theatre Co. in Chicago before moving to New York City. His first Broadway role in “Face of a Hero” alongside Jack Lemmon was in 1960 and he started to make inroads as a television actor. His film debut in 1962 was in the Elvis Presley vehicle “Kid Galahad.”

Asner was best known for his character Lou Grant, a crusty news editor on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in 1970 and later spun off on the “Lou Grant,” “Rhoda” and “Phyllis” series. He had nearly 400 acting credits and is the most honored male performer in the history of the Primetime Emmy Awards, having won eight, including five for portraying Grant and two for TV mini-series: “Rich Man, Poor Man” (1976) and “Roots” (1977). He served two terms as Screen Actors Guild president from 1981-85.

In the 2007 touring stage production “The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial,” Asner played William Jennings Bryan opposite John de Lancie as Clarence Darrow. De Lancie, best known as “Q” on the TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” was the first recipient of FFRF’s Clarence Darrow Award. 

At age 82 in 2012, Asner returned to Broadway after a 23-year absence, joining the cast of “Grace,” a play starring Paul Rudd as a religious idealist trying to open a chain of Gospel motels in Florida. Asner played a gruff exterminator. In 2013 during his one-man show “FDR” in Indiana, he was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with exhaustion.

In 2018 he started playing the title character in a touring stage production of the political comedy “God Help Us!” in which he used his “divine” judgment to moderate a heated exchange of ideas between characters Randi and Larry. It could be presented either with a veteran cast or with local actors playing Larry and Randi. Asner played God. When the show played in December 2019 in Madison, Wis., Asner visited FFRF’s headquarters to be a guest on its TV show “Freethought Matters.”

Asner was married to Nancy Sykes from 1959-88 and they had three children: Kate and twins Matthew and Liza. In 1987 he had a son, Charles, with Carol Jean Vogelman. He married producer Cindy Gilmore in 1998 after a seven-year engagement. They divorced in 2015.

Asner was a parent and grandparent of children with autism and was actively involved with the nonprofit group Autism Speaks. He published “The Grouchy Historian: An Old-Time Lefty Defends Our Constitution Against Right-Wing Hypocrites and Nutjobs” in 2017. In 2018 he announced the creation of the Ed Asner Family Center to support differently abled people.

His death at age 91 was announced on his official Twitter account: “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.” (D. 2021)

PHOTO: Asner at age 82 at the 2012 Phoenix Comicon; Gage Skidmore photo under CC 3.0

Freedom From Religion Foundation