Michael Lerner, the longtime character actor who received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of artistically uninteresting studio head Jack Lipnick in Barton Fink, has died at the age of 81. Lerner’s nephew announced, on actor Sam Lerner’s personal Instagram page. While she didn’t reveal specifics about her uncle’s death, she used the post to pay tribute to the late Oscar nominee.
“Last night we lost a legend,” wrote Sam Lerner. “It’s hard to put into words how brilliant my uncle Michael was and how influential he was on me. His stories always inspired me and made me fall in love with acting. He was the coolest, most confident, most talented guy, and having him as 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 have spent so much time with him, and we’re all lucky to continue to watch his work for the rest of our time. RIP Michael, enjoy unlimited Cuban cigars, comfy chairs and endless movie marathons.”
Born in Brooklyn in 1941, Lerner began performing in theater and radio plays in his early twenties, shortly after studying acting at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. In the 1970s, he began making regular guest spots on popular television series and made his first film appearance in Paul Mazursky’s 1970 comedy Alex in Wonderland.
He continued to work as a character actor throughout the 1980s before a career-defining role with the Coen Brothers in the 1991 classic ‘Barton Fink’. As Jack Lipnick, the mogul whose mercantile instincts and interest in wrestling constantly clash with the eponymous left-wing playwright John Tuturro, Lerner strikes the perfect balance between old Hollywood angst and psychological torture. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the performance, eventually losing to Jack Palance in City Slickers.
Lerner remained active into the 21st century, remaining in the public eye for roles in “Elf” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” as well as a brief arc on “Glee.”