Michael Lerner, Oscar Nominee for ‘Barton Fink,’ Dies @ 81

April 9, 2023

Michael Lerner who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his stellar performance in 1991's Barton Fink, died Saturday, April 8, at 81.

Lerner in a scene from No Escape, a 1994 drama (Image via Columbia TriStar)

Lerner's death was announced by his actor nephew, Sam Lerner, known for his work on The Goldbergs.

Sam Lerner posted a series of images of his esteemed uncle on Instagram, writing, "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. 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 💖."

Born June 22, 1941, in Brooklyn, Lerner appeared on TV in a quiz show when he was just 13 ahead of a long career on the stage.

A Fulbright Scholar, he roomed with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the '60s, appearing in her 1968 short Smile.

Lerner on the "Every Boy Does It Once" episode (Image via video still)

With stage credits too numerous to mention — including a glitzy gig on the West End opposite Madonna in Up for Grabs (2002) — Lerner also racked up over 180 TV and film appearances, starting with guest spots on shows including The Brady Bunch (1969) and The Doris Day Show (1969 & 1970).

He played Cher's dad for 18 episodes of the short-lived Clueless series (1996-1997), and recurred on Glee as Sidney Greene (2013-2014).

Lerner's film debut was in Alex in Wonderland (1970) for writer-director Paul Mazursky.

Along with Barton Fink, some of his most memorable films include The Candidate (1972), The Other Side of Midnight (1977), Goldengirl (1979), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981), Strange Invaders (1983), Anguish (1987), Vibes (1988), Eight Men Out (1988), Harlem Nights (1989), Newsies (1992), Radioland Murders (1994), The Road to Wellville (1994), The Beautician and the Beast (1997), Godzilla (1998), Elf (2003), Poster Boy (2004), Life During Wartime (2009), A Serious Man (2009), and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014).

Lerner based his Oscar-nominated performance in Barton Fink on fabled studio exec Louis B. Mayer, and actually played Mayer in the last film he ever made, 2022's First Oscar, a Russian production.

In 2012, Lerner auctioned off his legendary collection of rare books via Bonhams, including two 1665 editions of Aesop's Fables, an advance copy of Allen Ginsberg's Howl, and a first limited association copy of Ernest Hemingway's In Our Time.

A cigar buff from way back, Lerner was also known as one of the card players in a regular poker game with such famous names as Milton Berle, Charles Bronson, Richard Dreyfuss and Ed Asner.

He is survived by his younger brother, his nephew Sam, and his niece Jenny.

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