‘We lost a legend last night’: Barton Fink star Michael Lerner dies, age 81

Apr 11, 2023
Lerner was best known for his role in Barton Fink. Source: Getty Images.

Well-known character actor and Oscar award nominee Michael Lerner passed away on Saturday, April 8 at the age of 81.

Lerner’s death was confirmed by his nephew Sam who took to social media to announce his passing and pay tribute to the Barton Fink star.

“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 wrote.

“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.”


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A post shared by Sam Lerner (@samlerner)

Born June 22, 1941, Lerner secured his first television role at the young age of 13 as a “quiz kid” for a local television program.

While studying at Brooklyn College, Lerner played Willy Loman in a production of Death of a Salesman, the role convinced him that he wanted to pursue acting,

Upon graduating from Brooklyn College, he received a scholarship to the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a master’s degree and later received a Fulbright Scholarship to study theater in London for two years, at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

Lerner returned to the US in 1968 and joined the American Conservatory Theatre and at the age of 24 appeared in a KPFA radio production of  Michel de Ghelderode’s Breugelesque play, Red Magic.

In 1969, he appeared in a production of Little Murders and began making guest appearances in television shows such as The Brady BunchThe Odd Couple and M*A*S*H.

In 1970, Lerner made his film debut in Alex in Wonderland and went on to secure supporting roles in films such as The CandidateSt. Ives and the 1981 remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice.

In 1991, Lerner secured the role of film producer Jack Lipnick in Barton Fink, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Lerner’s later projects included appearances in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, the Christmas comedy film Elf, and an appearance in the West End production of Up for Grabs.

As news broke of Lerner’s passing, fans and colleagues alike took to social media to pay tribute to the star while reflecting on his impressive career.

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

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