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Ed Asner, beloved TV icon and star of 'Mary Tyler Moore Show,' dies at 91

The late actor portrayed some of television and cinemas most beloved characters, including Lou Grant, Santa Claus and Carl Fredricksen.
/ Source: TODAY

Ed Asner, a beloved TV icon known for his roles in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and its spinoff “Lou Grant,” passed away on Sunday morning. He was 91.

His family announced the news in a brief statement shared to Twitter, writing, “We are sorry to say that our beloved patriarch passed away this morning peacefully.”

“Words cannot express the sadness we feel,” the message continued. “With a kiss on your head- Goodnight dad. We love you.”

TODAY confirmed the news with Asner’s rep, Charles Sherman, who said that the actor “passed away today peacefully surrounded by family.”

The seven-time Emmy winner was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on Nov. 15, 1929. He kicked off his acting career in the theater, helping found the predecessor of The Second City, the Playwrights Theatre Company in Chicago, according to Deadline. His first Broadway role was in the 1960 production of “Face of a Hero,” three years after his 1957 TV debut in “Studio One.”

The cast of the "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" in 1972, including Valerie Harper as Rhoda Morgenstern, Ed Asner as Lou Grant, Cloris Leachman as Phyllis Lindstrom, Gavin McLeod as Murray Slaughter, Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards, and Ted Knight as Ted Baxter.CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images

Asner was later cast as the grouchy yet lovable Lou Grant alongside Mary Tyler Moore's Mary Richards in the comedy “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which ran from 1970 to 1977. Following the end of the series, his character received his own spinoff drama, “Lou Grant,” which aired from 1977 to 1982.

In 2017, Asner sat down with TODAY’s Al Roker to dissect why viewers loved Grant so much and revealed whether he agreed with the iconic character's most famous line: "I hate spunk!”

“Well, I’m fairly well known as a grouch, and according to Lou Grant on TV, I hate spunk,” Asner told Al. “It’s a stinking lie — ‘cause I love spunk.”

Addressing why people were drawn to the character, Asner explained, “He’s the avuncular person we all know in life who we cower at at first, and then we learn that he’s not such a monster.”

The late actor received five of his seven Emmys for portraying Grant, making him one of two actors (the other is Uzo Aduba) to win an Emmy in both the drama and comedy categories for the same role, according to The Hollywood Reporter. His other two Emmys came from his performances in the popular miniseries “Roots” and “Rich Man, Poor Man.”

Asner’s other notable roles include Santa Claus in the holiday classic “Elf” and his voice work in Pixar’s “Up” as lead character Carl Fredricksen.

Most recently, Asner guest-starred on the comedy “Cobra Kai,” portraying Sid Weinberg, Johnny Lawrence’s stepfather. He was also touring with Jeff Cohen's play "The Soap Myth" in the role of Milton Saltzman, a Holocaust survivor, until the tour was interrupted by the pandemic.

Actor Ed Asner arrives to the Los Angeles premiere of "UP" held at the El Capitan Theatre on May 16, 2009 in Hollywood, California.Barry King / FilmMagic

Despite his long list of accomplishments on camera and the stage, Asner feels his life's best work is his "beautiful family," he told Al in 2017.

Asner was married to Nancy Sykes from 1959 to 1988 before marrying Cindy Gilmore in 1998, whom he lated divorced in 2015. He is survived by his four children, Matthew, Charles, Liza and Kate, and 10 grandchildren.