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From ‘Lou Grant’ to ‘Up,’ here are seven of Ed Asner’s must-see roles

A man dressed as Santa stands with a bunch of people dressed as elves
Ed Asner logged more than 400 film and TV credits over his career, including as Santa in the movie “Elf.”
(Alan Markfield / New Line Productions)

With a storied six-decade career, the late Ed Asner packed his repertoire with dozens of beloved characters and many, many cameos and guest appearances.

The seemingly indefatigable “Mary Tyler Moore Show” alumnus and “Lou Grant” star, who also had a string of Broadway credits, began his TV career in earnest in the 1960s when he appeared in anthology series such as “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “Route 66,” then “Thunder Alley” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” Asner’s roles went on to include present-day streaming darlings “Grace & Frankie,” “Dead to Me” and “Cobra Kai.”

The seven-time Emmy Award winner, who died Sunday at age 91, worked until the end. He’ll appear in a number of posthumous roles for years to come, including the animated projects “Dug Days,” “The Gettysburg Address” and “Back Home Again;” as well as the live-action series and films “A Fargo Christmas Story,” “Awaken” and “The Last Saturday Night.”

Until then, here’s a look back on some Asner’s must-see roles:

Bart Jason in ‘El Dorado’

Asner made his big-screen debut in 1962’s “Kid Galahad,” one of the two films he made with Elvis Presley. They were minor roles, so Asner called it the “big league” when he was cast in Howard Hawks’ 1966 John Wayne flick “El Dorado” — and it was, because the movie was also a critical success.

The western featured Wayne as a gunslinger, Robert Mitchum as a sheriff and Asner as Wayne’s rival, the wealthy landowner Bart Jason.

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Lou Grant in ‘Mary Tyler Moore’ and ‘Lou Grant’

A man in a tie stands in a newsroom office
Ed Asner on “Lou Grant.”
(Wally Fong / Associated Press)

Asner’s most iconic role was that of veteran newsman Lou Grant — a character who originated as the blustery but lovable, spunk-hating news director of the 1970 sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” The “everyman” role earned Asner three comedy Emmys and led to the hourlong dramatic series “Lou Grant,” which ran on CBS from 1977 to 1982. Asner’s portrayal of the hard-nosed city editor of the Los Angeles Tribune earned him two Emmys for drama, making him the only actor to win Emmys for playing the same character in both a comedy and a drama.

“He radiates warmth, generosity and caring, someone who reflects a toughness over a mound of Jell-O, a nice degree of intelligence but a working intelligence as opposed to an arrogant one,” he told The Times about the character in 1977.

Members of the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” pose with their Emmys backstage
Ed Asner, left, Betty White, Mary Tyler Moore and Ted Knight of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” at the Emmys in May 1976.
(Reed Saxon / Associated Press)

Axel Jordache in ‘Rich Man, Poor Man’

A man with a mustache wearing a white tank top and suspenders
Ed Asner as Axel Jordache in “Rich Man, Poor Man.”
(ABC Photo Archives / Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

In 1976, ABC aired the colorful and melodramatic “Rich Man, Poor Man,” a 12-hour miniseries about the immigrant Jordache family that had Americans “glued to their TV sets for the groundbreaking saga.”

The miniseries was based on Irwin Shaw’s bestselling 1970 novel by the same name and was set between 1945 to 1965. In it, Asner played the clan’s tyrannical German-born patriarch, Axel, the father of Peter Strauss’s Rudy Jordache and Nick Nolte’s Tom Jordache.

Asner earned a supporting actor Primetime Emmy Award for the role.

Ed Asner, the versatile actor who starred on TV in ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ and ‘Lou Grant,’ and movies such ‘Elf’ and ‘Up,’ dies at 91.

Capt. Thomas Davies in ‘Roots’

A white man in period garb stands with a black man in chains
Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton) is taken prisoner and shipped to America on a vessel commanded by Capt. Thomas Davies (Edward Asner) in “Roots.”
(ABC Photo Archives / Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

Asner was among the numerous sympathetic, even beloved, white TV stars enlisted to play unsympathetic roles in ABC’s iconic 1977 slave-trade saga “Roots.” Asner was transformed into the morally conflicted Capt. Davies, who led the slave ship that brought LeVar Burton’s Kunta Kinte to America.

He earned another Emmy Award for that three-episode performance.

Santa Claus in ‘Elf’

A man dressed as Santa Claus in a red shirt and colorful suspenders
Ed Asner as Santa in the movie “Elf.”
(New Line Productions)

Returning to feel-good fare, Asner played Santa Claus in the 2003 Will Ferrell comedy “Elf.” It was a relatively small role, but a climactic one — Asner’s Santa is marooned in Central Park because of a dearth of holiday spirit, so Ferrell’s Buddy the elf helps power up Santa’s sleigh while his friends spread Christmas cheer by singing loud for all to hear.

It was one of many St. Nick roles that Asner took on over the years, prompting him to say, “I’m getting too old for this job!” in the comedy. Prior to that role, his other holiday films include 1996’s animated “The Story of Santa Claus,” the 1991 TV movie “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus” and 2002’s “The Man Who Saved Christmas.” He also earned an Emmy Award nomination for the 2006 film “A Christmas Card.”

Carl Fredricksen in ‘Up’

An animated young boy and old man
Russell (Jordan Nagai) and Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) star in the animated feature “Up.”
(Disney / Pixar)

Asner voiced the cranky Carl Fredricksen — a widower who tries hoisting his house into the air with exactly 20,622 helium balloons — in Pixar’s Oscar-winning 2009 tear-jerker “Up.”

“Instead of a Clint Eastwood-type senior citizen who is fitter than people half his age, ‘Up’ gives us a man who uses a walker and can’t handle stairs but still manages to be heroic when it counts,” wrote former Times film critic Kenneth Turan."And ‘Up’s’ multi-minute montage of the long married life of Carl and his wife, Ellie, is a small gem that will stay with you for a lifetime.”

The animation studio tweeted that Asner was “our real life Carl Fredricksen: a veneer of grouch over an incredibly loving and kind human being.” Asner’s work on the spinoff TV Series “Dug Days” had already been completed prior to his death.

Mr. Weiner on ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

Asner appeared as Mr. Weiner in a 2001 “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode titled “The Acupuncturist.” He seemingly played a heightened version of himself, as did many of Larry David’s guest actors, but was cast as a dad who David inadvertently convinces to cut his son out of his will.

It was one of many of Asner’s later-career roles. His guest appearance as Abraham Klein in a 2009 episode of “CSI: NY” also earned him a guest actor Emmy Award nomination for drama series.


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