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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times

Michael Lerner dies at 81; actor had roles in ‘Barton Fink,’ ‘Godzilla’

Michael Lerner, best known for his roles in “Barton Fink,” “Godzilla” and “Elf” has died at the age of 81, his nephew said Sunday. (Getty Images)

Michael Lerner, best known for his roles in “Barton Fink,” “Godzilla” and “Elf,” has died. He was 81. 

Lerner’s nephew, ”The Goldbergs” actor Sam Lerner, confirmed his death in an Instagram post Sunday. A cause of death was not given.

“We lost a legend last night,” Sam wrote alongside a series of throwback photos of Lerner. “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.”

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1941, Lerner made his acting debut with a guest role on the medical drama “Dr. Kildare” in 1963. He went on to appear in numerous television series in the following decades, such as “The Brady Bunch,” “The Odd Couple,” “The Rockford Files,” “The A-Team” and “Hill Street Blues.”

Lerner’s big break in show business came when he landed the role of Jack Lipnick in the 1991 comedy thriller “Barton Fink,” co-starring John Turturro, John Goodman and Judy Davis. The role earned Lerner an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor in 1992.

Following the success of “Barton Fink,” Lerner continued to appear in various films and TV series, including “Clueless,” “Godzilla,” “Elf,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Glee.” Lerner’s most recent role was in the Sergey Mokritskiy-directed war drama “Pervyy Oskar” in 2022.

“Everyone that knows him knows how insane he was— in the best way,” Sam concluded his post. “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.”

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