Ac­tor Rip Torn dies at 88

Died at his home in Sal­is­bury

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - FRONT PAGE -

LOS AN­GE­LES — Rip Torn, the freespir­ited Texan who over­came his quirky name to be­come a dis­tin­guished ac­tor in tele­vi­sion, the­ater, and movies, such as “Men in Black,” and win an Emmy in his 60s for “The Larry San­ders Show,” has died. He was 88.

Torn died Tues­day af­ter­noon at his home in the Lakeville sec­tion of Sal­is­bury, Conn., with his wife, Amy Wright, and daugh­ters Katie Torn and An­gel­ica Page by his side, ac­cord­ing to his pub­li­cist Rick Mi­ra­mon­tez. No cause of death was given.

His work on stage and screen spanned seven decades, rang­ing from an early ca­reer of dark, threat­en­ing roles to iconic comedic per­for­mances later in life.

After ac­claimed per­for­mances in “Cross Creek,” “Sweet Bird of Youth” and other dra­mas, Torn turned to com­edy to cap­ture his Emmy as the bom­bas­tic, eth­i­cally chal­lenged tele­vi­sion pro­ducer in “The Larry San­ders Show.” Cre­ated by and star­ring Garry Shan­dling, HBO’s spoof of TV talk

shows aired from 1992 to 1998 and is widely cred­ited with in­spir­ing such satir­i­cal pro­grams as “30 Rock” and “Curb Your En­thu­si­asm.”

Torn played Agent Zed in the first two “Men in Black,” movies, which starred Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith.

Born El­more Rual Torn, the ac­tor adopted the name Rip in his boy­hood, fol­low­ing the tra­di­tion of his fa­ther and un­cle. It was the sub­ject of end­less ridicule dur­ing his early days as a stage ac­tor in New York, and fel­low drama stu­dents urged him to change it.

With cus­tom­ary stub­born­ness, he re­fused, even­tu­ally over­com­ing the jokes with a se­ries of pow­er­ful per­for­mances that led to his be­ing re­garded, along with Mar­lon Brando, Paul New­man and James Dean, as ac­tors of a post­war gen­er­a­tion who brought tense re­al­ism to their craft. He was also a po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist who joined James Bald­win, Harry Be­la­fonte and other cul­tural and civil rights lead­ers for a frank and emo­tional 1963 meet­ing with then­At­tor­ney Gen­eral Robert F. Kennedy about the coun­try’s treat­ment of blacks.

Torn made his film de­but in 1956 in an adap­ta­tion of Ten­nessee Williams’ “Baby Doll,” and within a few years was a re­spected film and tele­vi­sion ac­tor, work­ing on oc­ca­sions with his sec­ond wife, Geral­dine Page. At the Ac­tors Stu­dio, he gained the at­ten­tion of Elia Kazan, who hired him as un­der­study to Alex Ni­col, then play­ing Brick Pol­litt in the Ten­nessee Williams clas­sic, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” To­ward the end of the show’s Broad­way run, Torn took over the role of the al­co­holic, emo­tion­ally trou­bled for­mer foot­ball hero. He did so billed against his wishes as El­more Torn.

Cast later in a “U.S. Steel Hour” pro­duc­tion for tele­vi­sion, he was told to ei­ther change his name or for­feit the role. He threat­ened to re­turn to his na­tive Texas but fi­nally agreed to be cred­ited as Eric Torn. He was billed as Rip Torn there­after. His suc­cess even­tu­ally in­spired a younger cousin to take up act­ing, too — Os­car win­ner Sissy Spacek.

Other film cred­its in­cluded “Crit­ics Choice” and “The Cincinnati Kid.” In Al­bert Brooks’ “De­fend­ing Your Life,” he was fea­tured as a gre­gar­i­ous at­tor­ney in the af­ter­life.

Brooks tweeted Tues­day night, “R.I.P Rip Torn. He was so great in De­fend­ing Your Life. I’ll miss you Rip, you were a true orig­i­nal.”

On tele­vi­sion he played such fig­ures as Richard Nixon, Lyn­don B. John­son and Walt Whit­man.

His ca­reer hit a dry spell in the 1970s, and he blamed it on the buzz in Hol­ly­wood at the time that he was dif­fi­cult to work with, a rep­u­ta­tion sealed when ten­sion on the set of “Easy Rider” led to his be­ing re­placed by Jack Ni­chol­son for the 1969 re­lease and miss­ing out on one of the big­gest hits of the era.

“I wouldn’t say that I was black­listed,” he told The As­so­ci­ated Press in 1984, “but the word got around that I was dif­fi­cult and un­re­li­able. Un­re­li­able! In all my years in the the­ater I have never missed a per­for­mance.”

He man­aged to keep work­ing in small pro­jects in the­ater, films and TV, re­turn­ing to the main­stream in 1983 with “Cross Creek,” in which he played ta­ble­smash­ing back­woods­man Marsh Turner. The role brought him his only Os­car nom­i­na­tion, for best sup­port­ing ac­tor. He also ap­peared in 1984’s “City Heat.”

But he never en­tirely shook his re­bel­lious rep­u­ta­tion.

“What do they say about all the guys that are tremen­dous ac­tors?” he told The New York Times in 2006. “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 1994, ac­tor­di­rec­tor Den­nis Hop­per said on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” that Torn once pulled a knife in a New York restau­rant as he com­plained about be­ing re­placed in “Easy Rider.” He sued Hop­per for slan­der and won a $475,000 judg­ment.

He re­mained ac­tive in film and tele­vi­sion in later years, in­clud­ing a re­cur­ring role in “30 Rock” and a voice act­ing gig in the 2007 an­i­mated “Bee Movie.”

He weath­ered a cou­ple of drunken driv­ing ar­rests, in­clud­ing one in De­cem­ber 2008 near his home in Sal­is­bury, Con­necti­cut, that led to his place­ment in an al­co­hol ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram.

Born in Tem­ple, Texas, Torn ini­tially stud­ied agri­cul­ture at Texas A&M and act­ing at the Univer­sity of Texas. After ser­vice as a mil­i­tary po­lice­man dur­ing the Korean War, he hitch­hiked to Hol­ly­wood. Land­ing only tiny roles in movies and TV dra­mas, and sup­port­ing him­self as a fry cook and dish­washer, he de­cided to shift to New York and seek more train­ing as an ac­tor.

Torn and his first wife, ac­tress Ann Wedge­worth, had a daugh­ter, Danae, be­fore di­vorc­ing. In 1963 he mar­ried Page, with whom he had co­starred in the tour­ing pro­duc­tion and movie ver­sion of “Sweet Bird of Youth.” They had three chil­dren, a daugh­ter, An­gel­ica, and twins Jon and Tony, and ap­peared in pro­duc­tions to­gether un­til her death in 1987. Torn also had two chil­dren, Katie and Claire, with ac­tress Amy Wright.

Jon Kopaloff / Tribune News Ser­vice file photo

Ac­tor Rip Torn at­tends a fundraiser at the House of Blues in West Hol­ly­wood, Calif., in March 2003.

Kim Kul­ish / AFP/Getty Images

Os­car­nom­i­nated ac­tor Rip Torn, best known for his roles in the cult TV se­ries “The Larry San­ders Show” and the Hol­ly­wood block­buster “Men in Black”, died Tues­day at the age of 88, his pub­li­cist said.

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