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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Christi Carras

Oscar-nominated actor Michael Lerner of 'Barton Fink' dies at 81

Michael Lerner, the prolific character actor known for his work in "Barton Fink," "Godzilla," "Elf" and the "X-Men" movie franchise, has died. He was 81.

The Oscar-nominated performer died Saturday evening, his nephew and fellow actor Sam Lerner confirmed Sunday afternoon on Instagram. Sam Lerner, who currently stars in the ABC sitcom "The Goldbergs," shared multiple throwback photos of Michael Lerner and hailed his uncle as "a legend."

"It's hard to put into words how brilliant my uncle Michael was, and how influential he was to me," Sam Lerner wrote.

"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."

In 1992, Michael Lerner received an Oscar nod for his acclaimed portrayal of fictional Hollywood studio head Jack Lipnick in the Coen brothers' "Barton Fink." Throughout his career, Lerner amassed more than 150 credits spanning film and TV.

Shortly before securing his Academy Award nomination, Lerner told the Los Angeles Times he based his "Barton Fink" performance on legendary producer and co-founder of MGM Studios, Louis B. Mayer.

"I even found a pair of glasses in a junk shop that were identical to the ones he wore," Lerner recalled at the time. "As soon as I put them on, I felt like Mayer."

By the time he booked the role of Jack Lipnick, Lerner was no stranger to portraying Hollywood moguls: He also played Columbia Pictures co-founder Harry Cohn in 1983's "Rita Hayworth: The Love Goddess" and Warner Bros. President Jack Warner in 1980's "Moviola: This Year's Blonde."

"I love playing real-life people," he told The Times in 1991. "It gives me a chance to become that person for a while."

Lerner was also active on the California theater scene. After studying drama at UC Berkeley, he became a member of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. He later appeared in several Los Angeles productions before making his big-screen debut in 1970's "Alex in Wonderland."


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