With seven Emmy awards and five Golden Globes, Ed Asner is regarded as the most honored performer in American television. He was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame, received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, and also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Catapulted to stardom as Lou Grant in the long-running sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, Ed more recently is known for his beloved roles in the movie “Elf” and Pixar’s animated creation “Up”.
You would expect that someone with unparalleled accomplishments under their belt would easy and relax. But 89-year-old Ed refuses to even contemplate the “ridiculous” thought, having just guest starred in HBO’s “Dead to Me” with Christina Applegate, and recently returned from an overseas tour of his one-man show A Man and His Prostate.
In addition to acting, Ed is widely applauded for his activism. Over the years he courageously spoke out on a range of political, labor and human rights causes. He spent two terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild, where he lobbied for higher pay for actors who were struggling to make a living. Asner is also a tireless voice for humanitarian and philanthropic causes, such as the Survivor Mitzvah Project and Autism Speaks. His youngest son, Charlie, is autistic and he has three autistic grandsons. The family has just opened the Ed Asner Family Center whose mission is to promote self-confidence in differently-abled people and provide interaction and education for them and their families.
In between his extensive travels, activism and work, I recently had the pleasure of speaking to this Hollywood icon and found him not at all like the gruff Lou Grant he personified. He regaled me with stories of growing up in an Orthodox family in Kansas City, attending Hebrew school and cheder and being Bar Mitzvahed. In fact, he is convinced he became an actor to redeem his perceived miserable Bar Mitzvah performance.
Asner explained that when he became starting tackle during senior year in high school, religion got in the way. In particular, an important game was scheduled for Yom Kippur eve. He sought advice from his principal, coach and rabbi hoping to get a dispensation, but they all told him that he had to make his own decision. His father tearfully begged him not to play that night, but he did anyway… it was a decision he later regretted.
We spoke about his milestone 90th birthday this month, and I asked him how is it that he shows no signs of slowing down? He noted that working energizes him, and that he is doing what he loves.
We discussed his tremendous success both on stage, television, film and in voice-over work. He suggested he liked all the mediums, but that the stage is the most fulfilling. While he hates touring, he loves the thrill that being on stage gives him.
I asked what is the secret to his stamina and longevity in Hollywood and he answered “spinach—just like Popeye!” Then he seriously added that his secret ingredient is that people could always relate to him and his characters, and that’s what has kept him going for so long.
When I asked him what he had left to accomplish in his career, Ed quickly answered: “dying on stage!” Laughing loudly, he continued:” Wouldn’t that be one heck of a last act?!”