Michael Lerner, Oscar-Nominated Actor Known For Barton Fink And X-Men: Days Of Future Past, Dead At 81

Character actor Michael Lerner, known for his Oscar-nominated role in Joel and Ethan Coen's "Barton Fink," has died at the age of 81. Lerner passed away on Saturday, April 8, 2023. His nephew, "The Goldbergs" star Sam Lerner, confirmed the news in an Instagram post the following day (via Variety).

Michael Lerner was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 22, 1941. In the 1960s, he appeared on sitcoms like "The Brady Bunch" and "The Doris Day Show" and studied at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre before landing his first film role in "Alex in Wonderland" in 1970. In the decade that followed, Lerner would continue juggling movies, TV shows, and TV movies, making a number of guest appearances on shows like "Ironside," "The Bob Newhart Show," "M*A*S*H," "The Odd Couple," "Starsky and Hutch," "The Rockford Files," "Kojak," and "Wonder Woman."

In the 1980s, Lerner costarred in "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and had his first go at a couple of studio executive roles, playing real-life movie moguls Jack Warner and Harry Cohn in "Moviola: This Year's Blonde" and "Rita Hayworth: The Love Goddess," respectively.

This prepared Lerner for his role in "Barton Fink," where he played fast-talking studio mogul Jack Lipnick, who welcomed John Turturro's eponymous playwright-turned-screenwriter to Hollywood with the words, "The writer is king at Capitol Pictures!" His character commissions Fink to write a wrestling movie and later offers poolside moral support, only to dismiss the resulting script as a "fruity movie about suffering" — a nod to the Coens' own idiosyncratic struggle with writers' block in the film.

'We lost a legend last night'

Michael Lerner reteamed with the Coen brothers for the smaller role of Solomon Schlutz in the Oscar-nominated "A Serious Man" in 2009. And "Barton Fink" wouldn't be the last time he played a character parodying an industry figure, either. In his 1998 review of Roland Emmerich's "Godzilla," film critic Roger Ebert acknowledged that the character of Mayor Ebert, played by Lerner, was inspired by him. With his glasses and hairdo, Lerner was even made to physically resemble Ebert, who called his portrayal "gamely played."

Lerner gained further big-screen visibility in the 21st century with his roles as Mr. Greenway in "Elf" and Senator Brickman in "X-Men: Days of Future Past," among numerous other films. He had over 180 movie and TV credits to his name, with his final role to date being that of another real-life studio executive, Louis B. Mayer, in 2022's "First Oscar."

In his tribute to his uncle on Saturday, Sam Lerner wrote:

"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[s]."