Remembering Ed Asner: How to watch his most memorable TV and movie roles

Ed Asner
(Image credit: Photo by Michael Tullberg/Getty Images)

Ed Asner has died at the age of 91, passing away peacefully, surrounded by family, according to a report from Deadline. Asner had a career that spanned eight decades, with a number of projects still on the horizon according to his IMDb page. While his involvement in any of these future projects will sadly no longer come to pass, much of his historic career on TV and the big screen is readily available for fans to remember him by.

Beginning his TV career in 1957 on the show Studio One, Asner appeared in guest roles in a multitude of shows, including Naked City, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Route 66, The Virginian, Gun Smoke, The Fugitive, Mission: Impossible and many more. However, his career took off when he landed the role of Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, then his own spinoff show, Lou Grant.

It was these roles, as well as a number of other supporting and guest actor roles, that netted Asner 17 total Primetime Emmy nominations, including seven wins, which makes him the most awarded male performer in Emmys history.

Asner kept busy in the world of TV in recent years. He had supporting and guest roles in popular current TV shows including Cobra Kai, Dead to Me, Grace and Frankie and Central Park.

The actor’s memorable roles were not just limited to TV, as Asner also had a healthy career on the big screen, most notably as Santa Claus in the classic Will Ferrell Christmas movie Elf and voicing the widowed ballooner Carl Frederickson in Pixar’s Up; a role that he reprised in the upcoming short films Dug Days that will premiere on Disney Plus on Sept. 1.

Other career highlights include his tenure as the president of the Screen Actors Guild, and then receiving the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. Outside of entertainment, Asner was an activist and philanthropist.

For fans of Asner, the best way to remember him will be through his work. Here are some of the most memorable roles of Asner’s career and how to watch them.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

(Image credit: CBS)

The Mary Tyler Moore Show is considered one of the greatest sitcoms in the history of American television. And while the show was named after and stars Mary Tyler Moore, Asner’s Lou Grant, Mary’s boss at the TV station, was just as important to the show’s success thanks to the pairs great dynamic. Appearing in 166 of The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s 168 episodes, fans still wanted more of Lou Grant after the originally sitcom's run came to an end.

Lou Grant would be getting the eponymous treatment this time, as the character said goodbye to the Minneapolis TV station and hello to a Los Angeles newspaper. The show Lou Grant would also switch format from a half-hour comedy to an hour-long drama. It didn’t change the fact, however, that Asner’s portrayal of Grant was a fan favorite. Five of Asner’s seven Emmy wins (and 12 of his 17 nominations) would come from playing Lou Grant. 

Unfortunately, it appears right now the only way to watch Lou Grant is to purchase the seasons on DVD, which can be done via Amazon Prime. The Mary Tyler Moore Show, however, is available for streaming.

Spider-Man: The Animated Series (1994-1998) 

Spider-Man: The Animated Series

(Image credit: New World/Genesis Distribution)

J.K. Simmons has given the definitive live-action portrayal of popular Spider-Man character J. Jonah Jameson (and will again in Spider-Man: No Way Home), but before that Ed Asner was the boisterous newspaper editor pursuing the web slinger in Spider-Man: The Animated Series. Perhaps once again channeling Lou Grant, Asner gave a great voice performance whenever J. Jonah Jameson would appear in the popular kids’ cartoon. The actor also lent his voice to other popular cartoon series like Captain Planet, Gargoyles, Freakazoid and had a guest spot on The Simpsons

Elf (2003)

Elf Ed Asner

(Image credit: New Line Cinema)

Asner would play Santa Claus multiple times throughout his career, but never so memorably as in the Jon Favreau-directed, Will Ferrell-led Elf. While he only appears in a handful of scenes as jolly old Saint Nick, he is pitch perfect in the role that you have to wonder how the New York Park Rangers could ever hold a grudge against him even if he put them on the naughty list. 

Up (2009)


(Image credit: Pixar)

For anyone that didn’t watch either The Mary Tyler Moore Show or Lou Grant when they originally aired, Up is probably what they most know Ed Asner from. He voices Carl Fredericksen, the grieving widower who just wants to live out his days in the house he built with his wife. But when that is threatened he attaches balloons to his house and takes off for the jungles of South America like they always dreamed of doing, until a young stowaway throws a wrench into those plans. Asner gave one of the best Pixar performances yet, balancing the character’s gruffness with his deep grief, before ultimately finding a new spark that keeps him going. 

Asner has more than 400 credits to his name according to his IMDb page. Visit the website to see them all and to find more about the iconic actor’s career. 

Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Only Murders in the Building, Yellowstone, The Boys, Game of Thrones and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd.