Actor Rip Torn Dies Aged 88

Rip Torn in Bedefellows

by Owen Williams |
Updated on

The actor Rip Torn, whose considerable film and television career spanned seven decades, has died at the age of 88.

He was born Elmore Rual Torn Jr in Texas on February 6, 1931, but was known as "Rip" all his life. He graduated from Taylor High School in Texas in 1948, and went on to study drama at the university of Texas, although his first job was in the US Army's military police. Moving to Hollywood in the 1950s, his first film role was in Elia Kazan's Baby Doll in 1956. He then enrolled in the Actor's Studio in New York and began a stage career, while still racking up television appearances in the likes of The Restless Gun and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

His film career began in earnest in the 1960s, when he appeared in Cecil B. DeMille's Biblical epic King Of Kings, the Oscar-bait drama Sweet Bird of Youth, and in The Cincinnati Kid with Steve McQueen. Infamously he was all set to star with Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in Easy Rider – screenwriter Terry Southern had written the part of lawyer George Hanson specifically for Torn – until he fell out spectacularly with Hopper. The career-making role went to Jack Nicholson instead.

That reputation for irascibility would follow Torn through the rest of his career, but while he never achieved Nicholson's level of fame, he remained prolific as a character actor throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He garnered some of the best reviews of his career for Payday, and starred in Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell To Earth opposite David Bowie. The 1970s also saw him acting and directing on Broadway. He was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Cross Creek in 1983, following a doldrum couple of years turning out for things like The Beastmaster and Airplane II: The Sequel. His 1980s continued with standard fare like Clint Eastwood's City Heat and Walter Hill's Extreme Prejudice.

It was Garry Shandling's The Larry Sanders Show that re-energised his career between 1992 and 1998. Torn's role as the profane, wheeler-dealing talk show producer Artie saw him nominated for an Emmy award every single year of the show's run, winning in 1996. That success led him to diverse high profile film projects from Dodgeball and the Men In Black movies (where he played Agent Zed), to Curtis Hanson's Wonder Boys and Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. He returned to television for another lauded supporting role as the network honcho Don Geiss in 30 Rock between 2007 and 2009.

Declining health saw him retire from acting in recent years, and his final credit was a voice role on Comedy Central's animated TripTank in 2016. His death, at home in Connecticut surrounded by his family, was confirmed by his publicist Rick Miramontez. Torn is survived by his wife Amy Wright, and six children.

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