“We are sorry to say that our beloved patriarch passed away this morning peacefully,” his family said in a statement on Sunday.
The legendary actor died at home in Tarzana, Calif., surrounded by family, his rep confirmed to EW.
Asner’s iconic hard-drinking newsman Lou Grant – who he first brought to life for seven seasons in 1970 in the iconic comedy The Mary Tyler Moore Show and then played for five seasons in dramatic spin-off Lou Grant – netted the actor five Emmy wins. In fact, he was nominated each of the 12 seasons he played the character, a rare feat.
It wasn’t only the character of Lou Grant that brought Asner accolades: The beloved actor was nominated five other times for Emmys, and took home trophies twice, once for his much-lauded work in legendary mini-series Roots, where he played slave trader Captain Davies; and on another mini, Rich Man, Poor Man, in the dark role of Axel Jordache.
The star held many special distinctions in Hollywood, but there’s one that no other actor can claim. He’s the only performer who won both comedic and dramatic Emmys for playing the same character.
Asner was born Nov. 15, 1929, in Kansas City, Mo., and grew up across state lines in Kansas City, Kan., where he was a star athlete at his high school and got a taste of his future by announcing sporting events on the school’s radio station. From there, he attended college in Chicago and working with various acting troupes, including the Playwright’s Theater Company, which would eventually become the famed Second City improv group. Asner next made his mark on Broadway in New York City, where he debuted alongside Jack Lemmon in Face of a Hero (1960). A slew of TV spots – on series ranging from The Untouchables (1962-63) to Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1962) – eventually led to him landing the career-changing role of Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977). The curmudgeonly Lou Grant is widely remembered for his iconic quote to new employee Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) upon her arrival in the show’s newsroom: “You know what? You’ve got spunk. I hate spunk!”
After Lou Grant (1977-1982) was abruptly canceled – Asner claimed at the time that it was because of his outspoken political views while presiding as the president of the Screen Actor’s Guild – the actor still landed a variety of TV and film roles in everything from Sidney Lumet’s movie Daniel (1983) to television spots in Off the Rack (1984) and The Bronx Zoo (1987-88).
The bulk of Asner’s work in the 1990s and beyond came from voiceovers, as he voiced the characters of J. Jonah Jameson in the animated series Spider-Man (1994-1998), Hudson on Gargoyles (1994-1996), Ed Wuncler on The Boondocks (2005-2010), and Granny Goodness in various DC Comics animated series, among many others. Asner also became a go-to for Christmas films, voicing The Story of Santa Claus (1996), A Christmas Carol (1997), and Olive the Other Reindeer (1999), as well as appearing in Christmas Vacation 2 (2003) and Elf (2003). His most famous voice role, however, came in the 2009 Pixar film Up, as he brought to life the old-man character of Carl Fredricksen.
Asner’s family confirmed the actor’s passing on Twitter on Sunday, writing, “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.”
Asner’s appearance in “The Ballad of Jesse Wheeler,” from B.J. Novak’s upcoming FX on Hulu anthology series, The Premise, streams on Sept. 23. He played a history teacher in the episode.
He had recently opened up about his fanbase in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter where he reflected on his success with younger audiences.
“My primary source of mail deals with one-syllable titles: Up and Elf,” he said. “I love them both. Will Ferrell is a genius and the funniest man I came across since Ted Knight. Up was geniusly written.”