Rip Torn, Actor Known For ‘Men in Black’ and Artie the Producer on ‘The Larry Sanders Show,’ Dies at 88
Rip Torn, the diligent, temperamental Texan whose much-appreciated career was featured by his splendid turn as Artie the producer on HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show and he was equally at home in the comedy of the “Men in Black” film series, died Tuesday. He was 88.
Rip Torn, who was designated for an Oscar for depicting the hard-drinking father Marsh opposite Mary Steenburgen in the 1984 Martin Ritt drama Cross Creek, passed on gently at his home in Lakeville, Connecticut, his publicist declared.
His wife, Amy Wright — an actress known for Stardust Memories and The Accidental Tourist — and his daughters, Katie and Angelica, were close by.
Rip Torn wowed commentators as the fiercely defensive Artie (his last name was never referenced during the series) on The Larry Sanders Show, which featured Garry Shandling as a masochist late-night TV talk-show host.
The groundbreaking sitcom ran from 1992-98, and Rip Torn got an Emmy designation for all of its six seasons, winning in 1996. His character was said to be founded on Fred De Cordova, the long-term producer of Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show.
The part “was written to be a straight man,” he reviewed in 2011, “but people were saying, ‘God, Rip is getting all those laughs. Who ever thought that Rip could be funny? Just everybody that knows him.'”
“With Rip, he came in the first time, and his agent said he wouldn’t read,” Shandling, who died in March 2016, said in 2012. “Weeks later, it was just him and me in a room with no one else, and I said to Rip, ‘Could we read half of this together?’ And he said, ‘I don’t want to read.’ I said, ‘That’s totally fine,’ and I pushed it to the side of the table.
“We talked for less than another minute, and he reached over and took the page, and he starts the scene. It’s like trying to describe a good date to a friend the next day. I had to say to HBO and everybody else, ‘Honestly, this is the best sex I have had.'”
Rip Torn said he accepted the job since he owed family members a ton of cash. Producers thought Torn would be perfect as Artie after seeing him play an attorney in the Albert Brooks film Defending Your Life (1991).
A few years after the finish of Larry Sanders, Torn’s unpredictability and intensity were smartly channeled on NBC’s 30 Rock, where he played Don Geiss, the amped-up CEO of General Electric and Jack Donaghy’s (Alec Baldwin) boss. He got another Emmy nom in 2008, the ninth of his career.
In other comedic turns, he depicted Zed, the leader of the top secret government association, in the first two Men in Black movies; had a ton of fun as Patches O’Houlihan, a legend of his sport, in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004); and played King Looney in the sword-and-sandals spoof The Legend of Awesomest Maximus (2011).
In the same class as he was in comedy, Rip Torn was getting it done in dark dramatizations. He earned a Tony designation in 1960 for playing Thomas J. Finley Jr. in Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth and was the shifty blackmailer William Jefferson Slade in The Cincinnati Kid (1965).
Onscreen debauchery was a specialty. He played a psychiatrist filming the ladies he sleeps with in the pornographic Coming Apart (1969); was a womanizing college professor who progresses toward becoming David Bowie’s confidant in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976); and stood out as an egomaniacal record producer who seduces a youthful blonde in Forty Shades of Blue (2005).
Rip Torn was married from 1963-87 to the acclaimed actress Geraldine Page, whom he met at the Actors Studio in New York. One of the main acting couples of their time, they established the off-Broadway Sanctuary Theater Workshop in 1976. They were isolated when she passed on of a heart attack in 1987 at age 62.
Rip Torn likewise helped launch the Oscar-winning career of his cousin, actress Sissy Spacek, who was the little girl daughter of his Uncle Ed.
Rip Torn was an “actor’s actor,” however he had a reputation as a trouble-maker.
Legend has it that he was good to go for Jack Nicholson’s career-making role in Easy Rider (1969) preceding things went awry. Dennis Hopper, the movie’s director, said years after the fact on The Tonight Show that Rip Torn had pulled a knife on him in a diner, costing him the job. Torn said it was Hopper that pulled the knife on him and sued for libel, winning $475,000 in harms.
In an improvised battle seen in Maidstone (1970), Rip Torn assaulted actor-director Norman Mailer with a tack hammer; Mailer at that point bit into Torn’s ear during the ensuing scrum. The Criterion Collection depicted the movie as being “shot over the course of five drug-fueled days in East Hampton, New York.”
“What do they say about all the guys that are tremendous actors?” he told The New York Times in a 2006 interview. “Don’t they say they have a volatile temper and emotions? Yeah, sure they do! They’re not saying they like a nice mild guy. Look at Sean Penn.”
In January 2010, Rip Torn, inebriated and armed with a stacked pistol, was arrested after he broke into a Connecticut bank subsequent to shutting hours. He pleaded guilty and got a suspended sentence.
He was born Elmore Rual Rip Torn Jr. on Feb. 6, 1931, in Temple, Texas. All the men in his family nicknamed themselves “Rip.” He enlisted at Texas A&M to study agriculture yet moved to the University of Texas at Austin to pursue architecture. Soon, he “defected,” as he put it, to the dramatization department, where he was taught by Shakespearean scholar B. Iden Payne.
Rip Torn at that point apprenticed at the Dallas Institute of Performing Arts, studying under Baruch Lumet, the dad of director Sidney Lumet.
After a two-year stretch in the Army, Rip Torn moved to New York and trained under Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio, where he met Page during a speech class (he was isolated from his first wife, Ann Wedgeworth, at the time). He drew the consideration of director Elia Kazan, who viewed him as the next James Dean or Marlon Brando.
Kazan gave Rip Torn his first enormous chance — as the understudy to Ben Gazzara as the booze-swilling Brick in the original 1955 production of Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Kazan later gave him little roles in Baby Doll (1956) and A Face in the Crowd (1957) and after that cast him opposite Paul Newman and Page in Sweet Bird of Youth. (Each of the three reprised their roles for the 1963 film.)
In these years, a few producers questioned his “Rip” nickname and wanted him to utilize a progressively ordinary stage name. He was charged as “Eric” for one production yet promised to go to Texas in the event that he were compelled to utilize that name permanently.
Rip Torn landed his first major movie role with Time Limit (1957), a court-martial dramatization in which he played a prisoner-of-war survivor who splits on the witness stand. He proceeded to show up in another military-set dramatization, Pork Chop Hill (1959), and showed up as Judas in King of Kings (1961).
Additionally during the 1960s, Rip Torn depicted Ingrid Bergman’s young lover in the CBS prestige project Twenty-Four Hours in a Woman’s Life and visitor featured on many top TV shows of the time, including The Untouchables, Route 66 and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., exuding what one analyst portrayed as an “air of menace.”
After Rip Torn met with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy trying to begin a coordinated national theater in 1963, he was focused by the FBI and discovered inconvenience looking for work in major motion pictures. “I began to see things in gossip columns, stories about me,” he once said.
In 1970, on the day after Rip Torn spoke out against the Vietnam War on The Dick Cavett Show, a bullet was terminated through the window of his Manhattan home.
He soldiered on, showing up on stage and in such movies as Payday (1973), playing a mean, manipulative nation singer, and the Italian import Crazy Joe (1974), as a gangster. A lot later, he depicted Louis XV for Sofia Coppola in Marie Antoinette (2006).
Rip Torn is likewise survived by his sister, Patricia, and his grandchildren Elijah, Tana, Emeris and Hannah.