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  • Brian Fishbach

Hollywood reflects on Ed Asner’s encouragement, humanitarianism, and autism advocacy

Many figures in Hollywood mourned Ed Asner’s passing at age 91 with anecdotes highlighting the virtues of his life. He stayed active on and off screen right up to his final year.

In one of Ed Asner’s last roles in over sixty years in entertainment, he played the role of a surly estranged father opposite actor William Zabka in the Emmy-nominated Netflix series, “Cobra Kai.” Zabka spoke in June on the WTF Podcast with Marc Maron about his first experience on the “Cobra Kai” set with the legendary Asner:

“My first scene on the show with Ed Asner, he took me to school,” Zabka said. “He plays my estranged dad. I met him two minutes ago, we were doing rehearsal, and he calls me over and he says, ‘hey is there anything else I can give you?’”

“I said, ‘no you’re doing great. How about you? Do you need anything?’”

“Go f*** yourself!” Asner responded, in character.

Upon Asner’s death, Zabka is one of many who reflected on Asner’s reputation as an actor who could play the funniest of curmudgeons, but also be a generous, caring human whose mission was to bring kindness and encouragement to the world.

Actor Richard Kind had a similar reflection on working with the Asner saying, “Ed Asner was an SOB. And he said the same of me. That’s why we loved each other so much. I was lucky to work with him. To know him and his family. And to grow up watching and learning from one of the greatest character men of all time.”

When Asner’s real-life warmth is juxtaposed with the cantankerous characters he portrayed, it made him seem even more lovable to anyone who bore witness to him. Here’s a selection of more Hollywood reflections on the life of Asner:

“I had the honor to witness Ed’s generosity and compassion first hand. He was one of a kind and will be sorely missed. RIP Ed Asner. @EdAsnerCenter”

—Comedian Wanda Sykes

“Ed Asner, who won seven Emmy awards including five for the unforgettable role of Lou Grant, has passed away. He was a giant on the screen, and a philanthropist, too. A man of true heart and talent. He will be missed.”

—Actor George Takei

“Was having lunch at Jinkys in Studio City & #EdAsner was sitting behind me. I turned around & asked if I could join him, he said he'd love nothing better. We talked for 3 1/2 hrs & his bear hug at the end was in league with my dad's, who was famous 4 his. What a gift he was. #RIP

—Actress Nancy Lee Grahn

Asner had a reputation for encouraging people in the industry who he didn’t even know personally:

“Ed Asner was such a good guy - I didn’t know him at all but when ‘Dolemite’ was released he contacted me out of the blue to say how much he enjoyed it. What a mensch. R.I.P.”

—Filmmaker Larry Karaszewski

“Making my 1st film, Roger & Me, I was broke so I wrote to some famous people to ask for help. Only one responded: Ed Asner. “I don’t know you, kid, but here’s 500 bucks” said the note attached to the check. “Sounds like it’ll be a great film. I was an autoworker once.” R.I.P. Ed

—Documentarian Michael Moore

Comedian Bob Saget was one of many who reflected on Asner’s activism, saying that he “always wanted to be part of things that mattered.”

“We lost a great man today who I had the honor to know and work with several times. A passionate believer in people and democracy. And a truly gifted actor. A life well lived. Rest well, Ed. #ripedasner

—Actor Jason Alexander

“I interviewed Ed Asner by phone in 2017 and he was a delight, reminiscing about his blue-collar upbringing and his activism on behalf of working actors, AIDS patients, and the people of Central America. A true Hollywood legend. RIP.”

One of Asner’s lasting off-screen legacies is his work as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1981-1985, and remaining an immutable voice for labor rights thereafter.

“Rest In Peace dear #EdAsner patron saint of actors, unionists and all who fight to make a more equitable world for all beings. Bless you @TheOnlyEdAsner. Thank you for the time you gave us.”

—Actress Ellen Barkin

“The Lions are leaving the Circus. Ed Asner was a giant in our industry. A great Union man, President of our Actors Guild, a human rights activist. Ed could slide effortlessly between comedy and drama. My Dad’s favorite actor. It was honor to know and work with him. Love you, Ed”

—Actor and comedian Rob Schneider

“This is Ed Asner 1984: ‘Our union is our bill of rights. It sets standards for compensation and hours of work, to counter exploitation. It fights for human rights and creative rights, against the forces of bigotry and censorship.’

—Actress Frances Fisher

#RIP #EdAsner: A champion of comedy, local news, those with special needs, and the “little guys” in our @sagaftra Union. What a legacy of laughs, love, and compassion.

—Fox 11 news anchor Elex Michaelson

He also was an active supporter of The Survivor Mitzvah Project, a charity that raises financial aid for Holocaust survivors around the world who are living in poverty. The SMP reposted a video of Asner reading a survivor's heart-wrenching letter at one of their events at The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance.

Autism was also a cause that Asner championed. His son Charlie and his grandson Will both live with autism, which led Asner to found the Ed Asner Family Center in Reseda, which assists neurodivergent individuals and their families. And those efforts were recognized by many who are impacted by autism:

“Heard the great #EdAsner has passed away. One of the greats in show bizz history. Worked all the way till the end. In fact he did a reading with my bro Daniel just weeks ago. Thanks for all you taught us acting, activism & autism. Please make a donation to the @EdAsnerCenter”

—Actor Billy Baldwin

“You will be missed my friend! thank you for your friendship and endless dedication to helping #autism families #edasner #pokerwithe #edasnerfamilycenter @edasnerfamilycenter”

—Former USC Quarterback and retired NFL player Rodney Peete

His efforts will continue to live on. Asner himself summed up his outlook in the closing words of an encouraging mission statement on his charity’s website:

“If you know me, you know that I have done anything I can for people and a good cause. If you have come to me and asked something of me I hope I have been there for you. This is Asner calling. Help me change the world.”

Asner certainly did, and even after passing away, will continue to do so.

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