Ed Asner took a shot at me and my shoes in a very Don Rickles type of move, that I absolutely loved but more about that later, as the celebrated actor has passed away at the age 91.
Ed Asner's career spanned six decades, where he won seven Emmys, which is the Emmy record for a male actor but he also received five Golden Globes and was the president of the Screen Actors Guild for two terms. In 2003, he was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame.
Of course, he is most remembered as playing Lou Grant on the Mary Tyler Moore Show as well as the spin-off Lou Grant. He appeared in Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man and voiced the main character in Pixar's Up. And as he was a great actor, he was also an incredible humanitarian.
Asner was known for his political activism and charity work. An outspoken progressive, he lobbied for the establishment of a single-payer health care system in California and against the death penalty. He often referred to himself as a "lefty," including in his Twitter bio, and in 2017, he co-authored a book called "The Grouchy Historian: An Old-Time Lefty Defends Our Constitution Against Right-Wing Hypocrites and Nutjobs."
He was active in the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the Rosenberg Fund for Children, Autism Speaks and Defenders of Wildlife.
In 2018, he opened the Ed Asner Family Center, a Los Angeles-based organization that provides educational opportunities and mental health support for special needs adults.
For his efforts on behalf of social justice causes, Asner received the ACLU's Workers Rights Committee Award, the Anne Frank Human Rights Award and the National Emergency Civil Liberties Award.
Asner was part of the U.S. Army Signal Corps during the Korean War and when he came back Asner joined the Playwrights Theatre Company in Chicago, but left for New York City before members of that company regrouped as the Compass Players in the mid-1950s, a company that eventually developed into The Second City. Asner came back to guest star frequently on Second City's stage.
I got to meet Ed Asner briefly after appearing on the Chicago morning show Windy City Live in 2013. I told him I taught at Second City in Chicago which he really liked. He embraced me with an avuncular charm after that. I asked him if I could get a photo of me with him and Happy Days legend Marion Ross, his co-star for an upcoming project.
"Have you met Marion?" Asner asked gruffly (did he say anything NOT gruffly?)
"Yes, we met earlier in the green room. She complimented my shoes," I said.
Asner looked down. "Those shoes?"
Oh no, I walked into that one. Here it comes. The shoes seemed fancy to me at the time but looking back they were tan distressed leather wing-tip boots. Pretentious and shabby at the same time.
"Looks like you got those at the Salvation Army," he followed.
There it is. The feeling like Old Uncle Ed is giving me a friendly hard time. That's the appreciation I felt. He threw me a fair insult to break the nervousness of me being intimidated by a television and activist icon. Earlier, I sat back in the green room enjoying listening to him sarcastically grumble about everything and making everyone laugh. I couldn't wait to meet him and though our interaction was short, it was nice to cross paths with him and feel like we shared a Second City kinship and a moment that I won't forget.
I still have those shoes and now of course I will never get rid of them, though the Salvation Army would probably love them.