Ed Asner died this past week and although I’ve never really considered him an important part of my life or even an actor whose name I bring up in conversations about actors, or even someone whose breadth of work I think about outside of when I actually see him on the screen, his death has been sitting incredibly heavy with me.
A few tears welled up the other night when he appeared on an episode of Grace and Frankie and I thought about how I wouldn’t get to be surprised by his cameos like this any longer. And then this morning, while watching a new series for Disney+ called Dug Days, where he reprised his role of Karl Frederickson from Up, I started to realized that it was probably this precise character who had caused this unexpected level of care about the passing of a man I didn’t know much about outside of having him grace my television screen for my entire life.
Up, a film about an old man struggling with the death of his wife and trying to figure out how to continue his life without her in it, came out in 2009, just a few months before my wife and I welcomed our daughter into this world. But a year before that, we had also been waiting for a child. A child we would never get to meet.
Up opens with a notoriously emotional montage which shows the life of Karl and his wife, Ellie, from the moment they meet all the way until her death. And during one poignant moment in this brief glimpse of their lives together, we see them excitedly prepare for the arrival of their own little one, only for a second later for us to find out they lost the child before they ever got to meet it.
It’s safe to say I felt a certain kinship with Karl at that point in the movie, even outside of how his his characterization as a kid was geeky and awkward who then meets this spunky, full-of-life girl who turns his life upside down. But this moment, it has stuck with me. Up is one of my favorite films of all times, but every time I watch this exact moment in the movie where we see these two animated characters express all the emotions possible about the loss of a child, I get choked up.
And I think that although I’ve long held an appreciation for Ed Asner as an actor, all the way back to my young days watching reruns of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, this moment in a movie that came out twelve years ago is the reason that I’ve been so hung up on a man’s death who I didn’t ever consider as meaning much to me.
This probably also explains why every time he shows up in a show or movie when I don’t expect him, I nudge my wife and excitedly cheer, “Ed!”, because I think that even though Karl was an animated version of this man who has been a part of so many amazing stories, I still connected far more with the man behind the character than the character itself. The man who make this character real.
And so although I watched Dug Days this morning being thoroughly amused by the spectacle that is a talking dog trying to deal with interacting with the world, I also watched it thinking about how much a man meant to me without me being the slightest bit aware until after his death.
Also, in working on this post, I took a minute to skim through Ed’s IMDB page. For a 91-year old, this guy was incredibly prolific. He has 8 different projects in different levels of post-production alone, outside of his 406 acting credits they have listed to his name. Which also doesn’t include all of the stage work he has done over the years. Like, even outside of my feelings about Karl, this guy was an amazingly hard working actor.