The Daily Telegraph
Actor who revelled in playing hard men but whose career was derailed by violence and drug abuse
TOM SIZEMORE, who has died aged 61 after suffering a brain aneurysm, had a tough-guy persona that made him a natural to play military roles on the big screen; chief among them was Tom Hanks’s sidekick Sergeant Horvath in Steven Spielberg’s D-day epic Saving Private Ryan (1998), the aircraft mechanic Earl in Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor (2001) and Colonel Danny Mcknight in Ridley Scott’s high-profile, star-studded drama Black Hawk Down (also 2001).
Sizemore was cut from the same hulking cloth of old Hollywood masculinity as Marlon Brando, Robert Mitchum and John Wayne. He claimed to be a “real man”, but his hell-raising lifestyle spilled from the screen into real life, and vice versa, often with tragic consequences.
These included sex, drugs and bankruptcy on a near-industrial scale, as well as six months in jail in 2003 for domestic violence involving his former girlfriend, the former Hollywood “madam” Heidi Fleiss. She described him stubbing a cigarette out on her, knocking her to the ground and bombarding her with 70 obscenitylaced phone calls.
For much of the 1990s Sizemore was hooked on heroin, with cocaine as a sideshow. He blitzed the drug during the shooting of Natural Born Killers
(1994), in which as Jack Scagnetti, the serial-killer-hunting detective who strangles a prostitute, he established himself as Hollywood’s psychopath of choice.
He recalled this being a defining moment in his career. “I carried [Scagnetti] around a lot,” he said. “I had to steep myself in serial murder. I read [Ted] Bundy interviews. I met John Wayne Gacy [another serial killer]. I made myself sick … Even in the hair. I had an Eraserhead haircut. I lost weight, to turn into a snake, a lizard. Killer. Cold-blooded. No remorse. No conscience. Sociopath. Psychopathology.”
Such thorough preparation was his hallmark. As Vincent D’agosta in Peter Hyams’s big-budget thriller The Relic
(1997) he met museum curators to learn about the science behind their work, while as one of Robert De Niro’s gang in Michael Mann’s heist movie Heat (1995) he investigated prisoner psychology at Folsom State Prison, a maximum-security jail in California.
It took de Niro’s intervention for Sizemore to get to grips with his addiction. As he finished shooting the mafia film Witness to the Mob (1998), De Niro, who was executive producer, thrust him into rehab without even allowing him to go home and pack. This saved his life, though he continued to falter, and Spielberg warned him when shooting Saving Private Ryan that he would be dropped at the first sign of drugs and the film reshot.
Sizemore got through that movie, but his self-inflicted troubles continued. While on probation he was caught using a Whizzinator, or prosthetic penis, to give a false urine sample, and in 2005 a 70-minute explicit video circulated featuring him in “hardcore scenes” with three women. It also contained claims that among his conquests was the socialite Paris Hilton, who denied any such acquaintance.
Despite, or perhaps because of, his troubles, Sizemore’s acting career continued to thrive, with roles in Kevin Costner’s Civil War-era biopic Wyatt Earp (1994) and the hostage thriller Ticker (2001) with Dennis Hopper, as well as appearing in the television series Celebrity Rehab with Dr Drew (2010).
Yet the scandals continued. In 2014 he hurriedly retracted his claims of an affair between President Bill Clinton and the actress Liz Hurley, with whom he had appeared in the aircraft terrorist film Passenger 57 (1992) and also claimed to have had an affair with. “They’re the rantings of a guy that, as has been well chronicled, had a very severe drug problem. None of it is true,” he confessed.
On another occasion he supposedly engaged in sexual congress with nine women at the same time while under the influence of crystal meth, even while rediscovering the Catholic faith of his childhood. “I may have been a wayward Christian, but I was a happy Christian,” he mused irreverently.
Thomas Edward Sizemore Jr was born in Corktown, a rough suburb of Detroit, on November 29 1961. He was the eldest of three sons of Thomas Edward Sizemore Sr, a lawyer and professor of philosophy, and his wife Judith (née Schannault), who was of French and Native American descent and worked for the city’s ombudsman.
“I was an anomaly, because my father was a Harvard man, and he came from a family of poor people,” he said. “Two of his brothers were heroin dealers; one of my mother’s brothers was a pimp.” Visiting his grandmother’s house aged nine, he noticed regular knocks at the door: “My dad’s little sister told me what was happening, ‘Your uncle’s selling drugs.’ I said, ‘Is it dangerous?’ ‘Oh no, no, no. He’s a very well-respected drug dealer’.”
The family moved north to Utica, where his father fell for one of his law clients. The ensuing divorce was vicious: Sizemore Sr threw a television through the window; Tom’s mother rampaged through the new lover’s home; and Sizemore Jr threw a stone through the window of his father’s car.
He was educated at Bishop Gallagher High School and sang tenor in local musicals, including Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. By 15 he was watching “tough guy” characters such as Wayne and Montgomery Clift in Red River (1948), repeatedly replaying their scenes on his family’s Betamax video recorder and secretly acting them out in his bedroom.
After studying at Wayne State University he took a master’s degree in theatre at Temple University, Philadelphia. “Basically, I went to college to act,” he admitted. “I took all the [other] classes because I had to.”
Moving to New York in 1986 he started in off-broadway shows, making ends meet for three years as a waiter in the World Trade Center while “hoping it will work out”. He joined Ensemble Studio Theatre and acquired an agent but it was his fellow traveller Oliver Stone who took an interest in his work, casting him as a disabled veteran in
Born on the Fourth of July (1989) with Tom Cruise.
That led to parts with Sylvester Stallone in the prison action movie
Lock Up (1989) and with Christian Slater in the romantic crime drama
True Romance (1993), written by Quentin Tarantino. As Milo in Hearts and Souls (also 1993) with Robert Downey Jr he was able to look and act like one of his heroes, Elvis Presley.
He played a gay serial killer in the neo-noir Where Sleeping Dogs Lie (1992), convinced the viewer that a life was in the balance in Carl Franklin’s
Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), and used his stare to mask feverish depths in Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days (also 1995). International acclaim came with
Saving Private Ryan, in preparation for which Spielberg sent him and Hanks to boot camp under a veteran Marine, Dale Dye.
Having blown his substantial earnings on drugs, alcohol and legal fees, Sizemore hit “rock bottom” in 2007, losing his $7 million mansion that had once been home to Gary Cooper and squatting in a house in the California woods with no water or electricity. “I’m pretty handy though, so I stole some electricity from the telephone pole [and] redirected the water,” he said.
He sought to put his side of the story in his memoir By Some Miracle I Made it Out of There (with Anna David, 2013). Yet worse was to come, with revelations in 2017 that he had been kicked off the set of the 2005 film Born Killers (also known as Piggy Banks) after allegedly molesting an 11-year-old actress during filming near Salt Lake City. When the local prosecutor’s office decided not to press charges he was allowed to return, but later the girl, then a 26-year-old woman, brought a $3 million lawsuit that was dismissed by a judge.
In 1996 Sizemore married Maeve Quinlan, the former tennis star and actress who appeared in the US soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. The marriage was dissolved after three years amid more allegations of domestic violence and drug abuse. He is survived by twin sons from a relationship with Janelle Mcintire.
Tom Sizemore, born November 29 1961, died March 3 2023