Ed Asner: Things Most Fans Never Knew

Actor Ed Asner endeared scores of memorable characters to TV audiences and moviegoers for decades. As The Hollywood Reporter noted upon his heart-wrenching death in late August 2021, although he was rarely ever cast as a leading man, he was just what was needed to give dozens of programs and movies the vibrancy they needed to capture our attention. "I never saw a show that didn't benefit from an Asner cameo," exclaimed writer Daniel Fienberg.

Folks from a certain generation will remember Ed Asner as the lovable curmudgeon he played on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." They'll also remember the feat Asner pulled when he converted the comical role into a serious character for the drama spinoff "Lou Grant." To members of younger generations, he was Santa Claus in the hit 2003 Christmas movie "Elf" and the grouchy grandpa from Disney's "Up!" Chances are you're a fan of Asner even if you weren't aware of it, and you can bet that if you've watched American TV shows and movies in the past 50 years, your viewing experience has been improved by his expert delivery and evident passion in his work. But there was obviously more to the man than we saw on screen. For example, he was an outspoken political activist his entire life, sometimes paying a high price for his ideals. Let's take a look into the fascinating life of Ed Asner and find things even most of his fans didn't even know about him.

Ed Asner voiced a classic Star Wars character

Ed Asner's distinctive voice was key to much of his success. According to Behind the Voice Actors, he lent his raspy speech to over 70 roles on almost 60 different titles. You'll obviously remember him from "Up!," since he made you cry harder than you ever did as a baby, but you've also heard him bring life to characters if you're a fan of cartoons such as "The Boondocks," "The Cleveland Show," "Batman: The Animated Series," and scores of other shows, movies, and even video games.

If you were unaware of Asner's busy career as a voice actor, you might be surprised to find that he provided the guttural growls of one of the most notorious criminals of that famous galaxy far, far away. According to Dork Side of the Force, Ed Asner gave life to the slimy, obese crime boss of Tatooine known as Jabba the Hutt in a Star Wars radio drama produced in the mid-'90s. You can listen to the drama — which also features the voices of original Star Wars actors like Hark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams, and Anthony Daniels – in its entirety on YouTube. But Jabba isn't the only member of the Star Wars universe that Asner voiced. He also played Master Vrook Lamar in the video games "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic" and its sequel "The Sith Lords," from 2003 and 2004 respectively. May the force be with him.

Ed Asner protested U.S. military interventions in El Salvador and elsewhere

Asner didn't only play a politically minded newspaper editor on TV. He was also an impassioned activist who fought for justice in several issues of the day. An outspoken liberal in an industry dominated by conservative voices, Asner was ardently anti-war and spoke out against the bloody U.S. military intervention in El Salvador in the 1980s. As The Guardian reports, he protested outside the U.S. State Department and announced the creation of an organization meant to provide medical aid to victims of the military dictatorship in the country. Asner blamed the backlash from this activism for the cancellation of "Lou Grant" in 1982. It also helped NRA mascot Charlton Heston take Asner's position as president of the Screen Actors Guild.

His fears for the Salvadoran people were thrown into glaring relief at the close of the 1980s. According the Center for Justice and Accountability, members of the Salvadoran Army who had been trained by the U.S. military murdered six Jesuit priests and two other people on November 16, 1989. The slaughter was retaliation for Father Ignacio Ellacuría's criticism of the country's military dictatorship (U.S.-backed, of course). But Asner continued his activism throughout the rest of his life, opposing other similar U.S. military interventions. In October 2002, he spoke out against the impending Iraq War, telling Democracy Now! that he was there "to demonstrate that these acts will not be done in our name." His work was unfortunately unfinished at the time of his death.

He helped get Donald Trump out of the SAG

You can probably guess what a guy with political opinions like Asner's thought of a president like Donald Trump. Asner was an outspoken critic of Trump and his policies, and worked hard to get him stripped of an honor that he and other actors hold dear. Vanity Fair reports that Asner signed a petition in 2017 opposing what he and other celebrity signatories called Trump's fascist politics. He also led the charge to have Trump removed from the Screen Actors Guild, which led the former president to quit the union in February 2021 before he could be kicked out, as reported by Forbes.

But Asner's targeting of Trump wasn't just Hollywood partisanship. He strove to keep government accountable no matter who was in power. "Whether it's a Republican or Democrat president, or Republican or Democrat Congress — and it doesn't make a God-damned difference," he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2013, "it behooves us to get off our ass and ask these questions." He was speaking out against President Barack Obama's military intervention in Syria at the time. Rather than play party politics, Ed Asner stuck to his sense of right and wrong and held whomever was responsible to account for their actions, regardless of party affiliation.

Asner also championed animal rights

Ed Asner didn't limit his activism to his own species, either. According to Deadline, he was also a staunch defender of animal rights and was mourned by PETA after his death. "Gruff on the outside and on the screen but a pussycat of a fellow, longtime champion of social causes Ed Asner recognized every species as worthy of respect, including the cats he loved and regarded as family members," said the organization's Senior Vice President Lisa Lange. "He worked with PETA to end cruel tests on animals and advocated passionately to end circus acts with lions, tigers, and elephants. PETA will forever remember his strength and his kindness."

The actor worked with several animal rights organizations during his life. According to Activist Facts, he was a celebrity endorser of the Human Society and promoted the use of the Humane Charity Seal of Approval on the radio. He also served on the national council of the Farm Animal Reform Movement and was integral in its Great American Meatout, a campaign promoting a plant-based diet that People's World notes began in 1985. (In case you were wondering, Asner was indeed counted among the International Vegetarian Union's famous vegetarians.)

Ed Asner was skeptical about the official 9/11 narrative

Ed Asner's advocacy went a little far for some people. The Hollywood Reporter criticized his position on the government's official narrative of what happened at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. In a video posted to YouTube, he can be seen giving a statement to a so-called "International Citizens' Inquiry into 9/11." The text in the video gives a date of May 25, 2004, but documentation of said inquiry is not readily available online. "Could it all be accidents?" he asks at the beginning of his statement, before calling for an independent inquiry into the attacks.

But before you get all judgy-wudgy on conspiratorial Asner, just consider that he was by no means the only celeb to have questions about what went down that day that changed the world. According to The Wrap, several other actors have come out as 9/11 truthers, including Marion Cotillard, Charlie Sheen, Mark Ruffalo, and Rosie O'Donnell. Singers Willie Nelson, Matthew Bellamy, and Graham Nash have all been members of the celebrity 9/11 truthers club, as well. So who knows? Maybe Ed Asner's suggestion of a little more investigation into what happened that day isn't the worst idea (just sayin'). Whatever our disparate views of 9/11 may be, we can all agree that we are really going to miss seeing Ed Asner's smiling face in movies and TV made after his death.