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SYFY WIRE obituary

Ed Asner, prolific actor known for Pixar's 'Up' and Jon Favreau's 'Elf' dies at 91

By Josh Weiss
Ed Asner

Ed Asner — the gruff-voiced actor known for starring roles in iconic titles like Jon Favreau's Elf (2003) and Pixar's Up (2009) — has died at the age of 91. In a statement to Variety, Asner's publicist revealed that the actor passed away Sunday while surrounded by members of his family.  He would have turned 92-years-old this November.

The unfortunate news was also confirmed on Asner's official Twitter account with the following message:  "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 enjoyed an acting career that stretched across over six decades — beginning with the nascent television industry in the late 1950s — and more than 400 credits. Born Yitzhak Edward Asner to an Orthodox Jewish Family in Kansas City, Missouri, Asner caught the acting bug early on when he became a performer for his high school's radio station.

Recently speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Ansner admitted that his desire to act came as a major shock to those in his formative years as a religious Jew. "I was a stellar student at Hebrew school and the rabbi had big hopes for me, but I was a grave disappointment to him," he said. "I needed to revolt against something, and I revolted against the religion."

He attended the University of Chicago before serving in the Army between 1951 and 1953 during the Korean War. Following his military service, Asner returned to Chicago and helped found the Playwrights Theatre Club alongside fellow actors: Bernard Sahlins, David Shepherd, and Paul Sills. Following a string of off-Broadway roles in New York City, a young Asner made his way out west to Los Angeles, where his onscreen tenure began in 1957 with a minor role on Studio One.

From there, his career took off in earnest with dozens of one-off roles in small screen projects like Alfred Hitchcock PresentsThe Outer LimitsThe Wild Wild WestMission: Impossible, and — more recently — Cobrai Kai and Doom Patrol

His biggest claim to fame, however, was as a regular cast member on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. His time spent in the part of Lou Grant eventually won him three Emmys (over the course of his lifetime, Asner would be nominated for 17 Emmys, winning seven of them).

Ed Asner

As the years went on, Asner began trying his hand — and proving himself rather adept — at voiceover work for television, film, and video games. Some of his most notable voice roles can be heard in Batman: The Animated SeriesCaptain Planet and the PlaneteersGargoylesFreakazoid!Spider-Man: The Animated Series (where he played none other than J. Jonah Jameson), Superman: The Animated Series (where he played Granny Goodness), and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. And again, that doesn't even begin to cover the list, which includes Asner's most prominent animated character: bitter old Carl Fredricksen in Pixar's Up.  

"Pixar calls and says, 'We want to make an animated feature not about a toy, not about a car, not about a bug or a rat, but about a cranky 78-year-old man with a dream.' What was your reaction?" SYFY asked him just prior to the film's release

His reply? "I said, 'Sounds like me.'"

Directed by Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Inside Out, and SoulUp went on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 82nd Academy Awards, where it was also up for Best Picture. Asner would end up reprising Carl several times for the licensed Up video game, "Dug's Special Mission" animated short, and Kinect Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure. Fans can enjoy one last hurrah with Mr. Fredricksen in the series of "Dug Days" shorts coming to Disney+ this week.

“We here at Pixar have much love for Ed Asner, when he’s not telling us to go soak our heads,” Bob Peterson, the voice of Dug and writer/director of the shorts, joked to D23 this month. “We always manage to have a great recording session [with him]; Carl really is a role he was born to play. [We had a] recording session with Ed in February 2020… it was just before we were asked to stay home during the pandemic. It was our only [in-person] recording session, which took place in a beautiful Toluca Lake, California, recording studio — only the best for Ed Asner!

Asner is the second cast member of Up to pass away this year after Christopher Plummer.

Carl is one of two roles Asner is most famous for. The other is his turn as Santa Claus in Jon Favreau's Elf — the story of a happy-go-lucky human who thinks he's an elf (Will Ferrell) that is now considered a bona fide holiday classic. "My primary source of mail deals with one-syllable titles: Up and Elf. I love them both," Asner told THR during the aforementioned interview. "Will Ferrell is a genius and the funniest man I came across since Ted Knight. Up was geniusly written."

Asner is survived by his four children.

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