To create his beloved character Lou Grant, Ed Asner looked to his own family. “I used inner images of my two older brothers as the basis for the comedic Lou Grant,” the late star exclusively told Closer in August about the Mary Tyler Moore Show version of the character. And when the newsman became the star of his own eponymous TV drama, Ed found inspiration even closer to home. “I dove deeper into myself and came up with myself,” he said, “and I adapted.”
Over the course of his seven-decade career, Ed went toe-to-toe with John Wayne in 1966’s El Dorado, played dark, morally questionable characters in the epic miniseries Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man, and delighted a new generation with roles in Up and Elf. Yet, it’s curmudgeonly Lou Grant, the character he won Emmys for in both the comedy and drama categories, whom fans remembered with love when Ed died at age 91 on August 29.
Ed, who recently appeared on Grace and Frankie and Cobra Kai, told Closer just weeks before his death that he wasn’t ready to go yet. “If the good Lord is in a generous mood, he can give me another 91 years and I can show the world what I can do,” he said.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Ed majored in journalism before switching to drama at the University of Chicago. He remembered his 1974 audition with Mary Tyler Moore with glee. “She was a goddess … and also a power in the industry,” Ed said. Working on MTM was “seven years of delight,” but Ed confided he was irked that the show’s female characters had the meatier plot lines. “But I swallowed my pride, did the work, and eventually the girls got their own shows and they were left with the boys,” he stated.
Of course, Ed also got his starring vehicle when Lou Grant premiered in 1977. “The character became a much more responsible person and showed more of the wear and tear of the times,” said the politically active star, who made his idealistic character a progressive. “He was honest, he cared and he believed in truth in journalism.”
Ed could be disarmingly honest too. He confided to Closer that he hadn’t been a huge fan of his MTM costar Valerie Harper. “She was a smart-ass gypsy. She could talk her way through life — but,” he conceded, “she could deliver most of the time.”
Ed also confessed that he regretted splitting from Nancy Sykes, his wife from 1959 to 1988, after he fathered a child with another woman. “I cheated on my wife and I lost her. I will always regret that loss,” the twice-divorced father of four and grandfather of 10 told Closer.
The actor, who laid out his life story in his 2019 biography, Son of a Junkman, told it straight to the end, although Ed insisted he had mellowed a bit. “I’ve learned to hold my temper and be patient,” he said. “People give you respect because of your age. The least you can do is give them patience.”