Michael Lerner, an actor who appeared in films like “Elf,” “Godzilla” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and who received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for his performance in the psychological comedy Joel and 1991 Ethan Coen “Barton Fink” died Saturday night. He was 81 years old.
Lerner’s death was confirmed by his nephew, “The Goldbergs” actor Sam Lerner, who paid tribute to his uncle in an Instagram post Sunday afternoon. No further details are available regarding Lerner’s death at this time.
“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,” Lerner wrote. “His stories about him always inspired me and made me fall in love with acting. He was the coolest, most confident and talented guy, and the fact that he was my blood will always make me feel special. Everyone who knows him knows how crazy he was, in the best way.”
“I’m so lucky to get to spend so much time with him, and we’re all lucky to keep seeing his work for the rest of time,” Lerner continued. “RIP Michael, enjoy your unlimited Cuban cigars, comfy chairs, and endless movie marathon.”
After achieving steady acting work during the 1970s and 1980s, Lerner achieved a higher profile after earning an Oscar nomination in 1992 for his role in the Coen brothers’ period thriller “Barton Fink.” In the film, Lerner played movie mogul Jack Lipnick, the pushy boss of John Turturro’s eponymous screenwriter and a benchmark for the film’s sometimes ruthless, sometimes outrageous tone. The performance by Lerner, an imposing studio executive bound for the office, is often considered a seminal turn among Coen enthusiasts. The actor would later meet with the directors for a brief role in their 2009 existential comedy “A Serious Man.”
With an Academy Award nomination under his belt, Lerner became a familiar face to moviegoers throughout the ’90s, with notable credits including “Newsies,” “Blank Check,” “No Escape,” and “Celebrity.” In Roland Emmerich’s 1998 “Godzilla,” he played the overwhelmed and pompous leader of New York considered Mayor Ebert, a blatant satire of leading film critic Roger Ebert. Lerner was designed to look like the “At the Movies” co-host in the disaster blockbuster. (Ebert ended up panning the film with a 1.5-star review, though he praised Lerner for a “bravely played” performance.)
Lerner continued to work regularly after the turn of the century. He played the stern boss of James Caan’s grumpy publishing executive in the 2003 holiday comedy “Elf,” as well as a mutant-weary US senator in the 2014 blockbuster “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” “. His last feature film credit came in 2015 with the dramatic comedy “Ashby.”
Born June 22, 1941, in Brooklyn, Lerner began his acting career working at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater in the late 1960s. The Romanian-Jewish American actor found supporting roles in titles like “M*A* S*H”, “The Rockford Files”, “Starsky & Hutch and” “Hill Street Blues”, among dozens of other series. Other notable film credits include “The Candidate,” “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Eight Men Out,” and “Harlem Nights.”
Lerner is survived by his brother, Ken, and his nephew, Sam.