Ed Asner, one of American TV’s most beloved stars, who played journalistic editor Lou Grant in the legendary sitcom “Mary Tyler Moore” and his own spinoff show, died this Sunday (9/8) aged 91. He was also adored by new generations as the original voice of the grumpy old man from Pixar’s animation “Up – Altas Aventuras”.
Rarely has a role fit an actor as well as Asner’s portrayal of Lou Grant. You could say that he rehearsed since he was a teenager, because he was the editor of his school’s newsletter and a real photo from his school past illustrated the character’s office in “Mary Tyler Moore”.
Before winning five awards for the role, he’d gone through numerous episodes of 1960s series such as “The Untouchables”, “Naked City”, “Route 66”, “5th Dimension”, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, “Dr. Kildare “, “The Invaders”, “Mission: Impossible”, “Mod Squad”, etc. And he also appeared in the movies, making his debut alongside none other than Elvis Presley, in “Talhado para Campeão” (1962), a partnership that was repeated years later in “He and the Three Noviças” (1969), in which he also met Mary Tyler Moore.
Asner was invited to join Moore’s series in 1970, bringing his boss to life. Revolutionary, the sitcom followed a single woman who was seeking a professional career in an area in which few women ventured at the time, writing a newscast.
The actor’s first steady role, Lou Grant also became his most recognized work. Asner has won three of his seven Emmys as the boss of Mary Tyler Moore. And then he added two more trophies as the protagonist of the derivative series, named after the character. The detail is that the series “Lou Grant” was completely different from “Mary Tyler Moore”. While the original attraction was a comedy, the spin-off stunned audiences for its dramatic realism, making Asner the only actor to win an Emmy for the same role in Comedy and Drama categories.
The character Lou Grant appeared in seven seasons of “Mary Tyler Moore”, supporting the young writer from 1970 until the end of production in 1977. And shortly thereafter was given her own series, inspired by the serious journalism of “All the President’s Men” (1976). The character was the same, but everything else was different. The new production exchanged the television location for a newspaper office and the register of humor cheering for controversial topics in contemporary news. A radical and risky change, which incredibly worked. The attraction ran for another five years, until 1982, and won two Emmys for Best Drama, after “Mary Tyler Moore” won three times for Best Comedy.
The series could even have lasted longer. Asner repeatedly said that CBS canceled “Lou Grant” due to addressing some sensitive issues, especially his opposition to US military support for the El Salvador dictatorship. There would have been pressure from the government to take the criticism off the air.
The other two Emmys of his career came from appearances in 1970s miniseries: the audience phenomena “Pobre Man Rico” of 1976 and “Roots” of 1977. In the latter, he was the captain of the slave ship that brought Kunta Kinte to the USA.
The actor continued to appear in series, as a special guest, throughout his life. But he stopped committing himself to long work to dedicate himself to the union struggle. Asner was president of SAG, the US Actors Union, for two terms, from 1981 to 1985.
Although he is most recognized for his television work, he has also appeared in several notable films, including some classics such as “El Dorado” (1967), “Peter Gunn in Action” (1967), “Night Without End” (1970), ” Two Hardcore Tricksters” (1971), “PD 41: Hell in the Bronx” (1981), “Daniel” (1983) and “JFK: The Question That Won’t Be Silent” (1991).
Owner of a remarkable deep voice, Asner also developed a fruitful career as a voice actor, which took off in the 1990s with roles in “Batman: The Animated Series”, “Gargoyles”, “Captain Planet”, “Freakazoid!”, “Superman: A” Animated Series” and “Spider-Man”, where he played none other than editor J. Jonah Jameson.
His best-known vocal role, however, is Carl Fredricksen in “Up: High Adventures” (2009), an Academy Award-winning film for Best Animation. The widower who ties a thousand balloons in his house to fulfill his dream of discovering South America melted the hearts of audiences around the world and had just been taken over by the actor in the animated series “A Vida do Dug”, centered on the dog of the old man, which debuts on the Disney+ platform next Wednesday (1/9).
His latest works include appearances in the series “Grace and Frankie”, “Briarpatch” and “Cobra Kai”, as well as voiceovers in “Central Park” and “American Dad”.