Rip Torn

Rip Torn

Actor Rip Torn enjoyed two distinctly diverse periods of fame in his career - he was a gifted if volatile presence on Broadway and in episodic television during the 1960s and 1970s, and as a sly, Emmy-winning comic talent in such '90s-era series as "The Larry Sanders Show" (HBO, 1992-1998) and films like "Men in Black" (1997). Born Elmore Rual Torn, Jr., in Temple, Texas, he adopted his unusual stage name from a nickname shared between all of the male members of his family. He initially intended to follow in the footsteps of his father, a noted agriculturalist and economist, and study agriculture at Texas A&M University, but found his true calling in acting, which he studied at the University of Texas. After graduation, he served as a military policeman in the United States Army before heading west to try his hand in Hollywood. It proved less than successful, with Torn finding more work as as a dishwasher than actor, which spurred him to head for New York. Once there, studies at the Actors Studio under Lee Strasberg coincided with his first television and film appearances, which included an uncredited turn in Elia Kazan's "Baby Doll" (1956). That same year, Torn made his Broadway debut as Brick, the tortured protagonist of Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," and later earned a Tony nomination for Williams' "Sweet Bird of Youth." He would follow the production's leads-Paul Newman and Geraldine Page-to Hollywood to appear in Kazan's 1962 feature film version; he and Page would be married a year later and became one of the theater world's most eclectic and well-regarded couples until her death in 1987. Though theater was perhaps his most celebrated showcase, Torn also maintained steady work and features and television: he had played Judas Iscariot in George Stevens' Biblical epic "King of Kings" (1961) and was frequently cast as rough-hewn, even dangerous men in numerous television episodes and in films like "The Cincinnati Kid" (1966) and Cornel Wilde's surreal WWII film "Beach Red" (1967). Torn shouldered a reputation for being difficult off-screen and -stage as well: he was fired from the London production of James Baldwin's "Blues for Mr. Charlie" for reportedly insulting both the author and the production, and exited "Easy Rider" (1969) after claiming that co-director Dennis Hopper had threatened him with a knife. Perhaps the most infamous incident came during the production of Norman Mailer's experimental feature "Maidstone" (1970); while improvising a scene, Torn struck Mailer, who was also starring in the film, with a hammer, resulting in a fight between the two actors that culminated in Mailer biting Torn's ear. Torn's reputation for being difficult would eventually let out the ballast from his film career - though he would claim that this was more due to his anti-war, anti-bigotry politics - and for much of the '70s, he kept to episodic television and the New York stage, including a 1975 revival of "The Glass Menagerie" with Maureen Stapleton. But after receiving solid reviews for his turn as a craven country star in the little-seen "Payday" (1973), a scientist aiding alien David Bowie in "The Man Who Fell to Earth" (1976) and back-to-back performances as Walt Whitman in the CBS miniseries "The American Parade" and as Richard Nixon in "Blind Ambition" (CBS, 1979), Torn began to slowly rebuild his standing in Hollywood. His performance as a hard-drinking bayou resident in "Cross Creek" (1983) earned him an Oscar nomination, while his turn as Big Daddy in a Showtime production of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" brought a CableACE Award nod. But it was a comic role - a cheerful litigator for the recently deceased in the afterlife - in Albert Brooks' "Defending Your Life" (1991) that led to his true career renaissance. Garry Shandling was reportedly inspired by that performance to cast Torn as Artie, the menacing but unwaveringly loyal talk show producer on his acclaimed "Larry Sanders Show," a project that would earn Torn six Emmy nominations and one win in 1996. More importantly, it recast Torn as a rascally comic presence, which he would play, in varying capacities, for the next decade. He was the goateed head of a secret agency pressed with halting alien invasions in Barry Sonnenfeld's hit "Men in Black" (1997) and its 2002 sequel; a self-impressed author in Curtis Hanson's "Wonder Boys" (2000); the wheelchair-bound, wrench-tossing dodgeball coach in the Ben Stiller comedy "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" (2004), and King Louis XV in Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette" (2006). But by the mid-2000s, Torn's ornery side had caught up with him; a string of arrests for driving while intoxicated culminated in a 2010 incident in which an inebriated Torn attempted to break into a bank office branch in Connecticut, which he believed to be his home residence. He pled guilty to reckless endangerment and received a two-and-a-half-year suspended sentence, but the damage to his career couldn't be undone: Torn worked largely in independent films and in voice-over roles until 2016, when he logged his final screen work in the animated comedy series "TripTank" (Comedy Central, 2014-2016). He remained largely out of sight until his death at the age of 88 at his home in Lakeville, Connecticut on July 9, 2019.



Guest Appearances