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Actor Michael Lerner has died at 81

By Sarah May on
 April 10, 2023

The showbusiness world was saddened this weekend to learn that celebrated actor Michael Lerner, whose prolific career included notable appearances in films such as Godzilla and Elf, died at the age of 81, as Entertainment Weekly reports.

According to NBC News, the star's death was confirmed by his nephew, Sam Lerner, of television's The Goldbergs.

“We lost a legend”

Sam Lerner took to Instagram to post a poignant tribute to his uncle that included a series of photos of the actor from various stages of his life.

“We lost a legend last night. It's hard to put into words how brilliant my uncle Michael was, and how influential he was to me,” Sam Lerner began.

The television notable continued, “His stories always inspired me and made me fall in love with acting. He was the coolest, most confident, talented guy, and the fact that he was my blood will always make me feel special.”

“Everyone that knows him knows how insane he was – in the best way. I'm so lucky I got to spend so much time with him, and we're all lucky we can continue to watch his work for the rest of time,” Sam Lerner added.

Impressive beginnings

A native of Brooklyn, New York, Lerner's first foray into the world of entertainment came as in the form of an appearance on a local television quiz show.

From there, Lerner pursued the craft of acting at Brooklyn College, and went on to earn a masters degree at the University of California at Berkeley, as Entertainment Weekly further noted.

Lerner also studied abroad after winning a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue additional theater training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

It was during that time that Lerner had the improbable experience of sharing an apartment with Beatles legend John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono.

Memorable character actor

Technically, Lerner's first film appearance came in an experimental short of Ono's entitled Smile, but it was not long before his talents carried him to a film role in 1970's Alex in Wonderland.

In 1972, Lerner secured the role of speechwriter to Robert Redford's character in The Candidate, and he continued to earn steady work as a character actor on productions for the big screen.

The late 80's saw Lerner appear in Eddie Murphy's Harlem Nights, and then in 1991, he had an especially memorable turn as film mogul Jack Lipnick in the acclaimed Barton Fink.

Other noteworthy films in which Lerner delivered memorable performances include Newsies, No Escape, Godzilla, and Elf.

Small screen standout

As Entertainment Weekly pointed out, Lerner's professional television debut came in 1963, when he appeared in an episode of Dr. Kildare.

From there, he went on to notch guest appearances on shows such as The Brady Bunch, The Doris Day Show, That Girl, M.A.S.H., The Bob Newhart Show, The Odd Couple, also landing supporting roles on popular series that included The Rockford Files, Hill Street Blues, and Starsky & Hutch, making him an easily recognizable face to fans of the small screen as well as the cinema.

Though most of Lerner's television roles were for limited duration appearances or as a one-time guest star, he did have a recurring part on the small-screen version of Clueless, when he played Mel Horowitz, father of lead character, Cher Horowitz.

According to NBC News, Lerner is survived by brother Ken – also an actor – and nephew Sam, who concluded his touching social media tribute to his uncle by saying, “RIP Michael, enjoy your unlimited Cuban cigars, comfy chairs, and endless movie marathon.”