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'Barton Fink' and 'Elf' actor Michael Lerner dies at 81

He also made numerous television appearances throughout his career, including guest spots on "Law and Order," "The Sopranos," "Entourage" and "Glee."
Posted at 10:19 AM, Apr 10, 2023

Actor Michael Lerner, who's best known for his memorable performances in film, television and on stage, has died at the age of 81, his nephew announced Sunday in a social media tribute.

 "We lost a legend last night," actor Sam Lerner said on Instagram. "It’s hard to put into words how brilliant my uncle Michael was, and how influential he was to me. 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. RIP Michael, enjoy your unlimited Cuban cigars, comfy chairs, and endless movie marathon."

Lerner was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1941 and studied drama at Brooklyn College. He later earned a Fulbright scholarship to study theater at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. After two years in England, Lerner returned to the San Francisco Bay Area to join the American Conservatory Theater, where he was discovered by an agent who moved him to Los Angeles to launch his Hollywood career. 

He starred in a number of pilots and TV shows throughout the 1960s before landing his first movie, "Alex in Wonderland," in 1970. He went on to appear in films such as "National Lampoon's: Class Reunion," "Anguish" and "Harlem Nights."

But he is perhaps best known for his portrayal of the wily studio executive Jack Lipnick in the 1991 film "Barton Fink." Lerner received widespread acclaim for his performance, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

"I read the script, and you just know good writing. It was brilliantly written, and I just knew it," Lerner said of the film in 2016. 

Lerner's other notable film credits include "Elf," "Godzilla" and "Eight Men Out." He also made numerous television appearances throughout his career, including guest spots on "Law and Order," "The Sopranos," "Entourage" and "Glee."

Lerner is survived by his brother, Ken, and his nephew, Sam.