Rip Torn, cult actor and Artie in the Larry Sanders Show dies aged 88

Star of a string of 60s classics fell foul of Hollywood because of his temper but found a fresh lease of life in comedy, from TVs Larry Sanders Show to the Men in Black films

Rip Torn, cult actor and Artie in the Larry Sanders Show dies aged 88

Rip Torn, Americas celebrated wildman actor, has died aged 88. Torn, who had been a constant presence on stage and screen since the mid-1950s, was arguably better known for his eccentric, and occasionally violent, antics when the cameras werent rolling and on one notorious occasion, when they were.

His publicist, Rick Miramontez, confirmed Torn died Tuesday afternoon at his home with his wife, actor Amy Wright, and daughters Katie Torn and Angelica Page by his side. No cause of death was given.

During the filming of Norman Mailers film Maidstone, a largely improvised production made at the height of the late-60s counterculture, Torn played Mailers brother, and attacked Mailer for real, hitting him over the head with a hammer and then attempting to strangle him. Mailer responded by biting Torns ear.

Torns reputation for irascibility had already been established inside the industry after a row with Dennis Hopper during the pre-production of Easy Rider, the seminal 1969 counterculture biker movie, that led to Torn being replaced by Jack Nicholson before shooting began. The incident became more widely known after Hopper claimed on a TV talkshow in 1994 that Torn had pulled a knife on him; Torn subsequently sued, claiming that Hopper had in fact pulled the knife on him. The court found in Torns favour, and awarded him $475,000 in damages.

Rip Torn with future wife Geraldine Page in the film version of The Sweet Bird of Youth. Photograph: Moviestore/Rex/Shutterstock

By the time of Easy Rider, however, Torn was already an established figure in Hollywood. Born in Texas in 1931, the son of an agricultural economist, Torns given names were Elmore Rual, with Rip being a traditional nickname within his family. (His mothers maiden name was Spacek; his cousin is Carrie star Sissy Spacek.) Torn studied drama at the University of Texas, before relocating to New York and the Actors Studio, the celebrated training ground for the method generation. There he fell in with the circle around director Elia Kazan, who gave Torn his first film part (in 1956s Baby Doll) and his first substantial stage role, in the original 1959 production of Sweet Bird of Youth (as well as the 1962 film adaptation, directed by Richard Brooks).

Michael McKean (@MJMcKean)

Looking back on decades of Rip Torn’s work and can’t think of a single performance that could have been bettered by another actor. One of a kind. RIP.

July 10, 2019

Seth MacFarlane (@SethMacFarlane)

Rip Torn always made me laugh. Artie and Bob Diamond were two utterly unforgettable characters.

July 10, 2019

Torns career gained momentum during the 1960s: he played Judas Iscariot in the Nicholas Ray-directed King of Kings, as wealthy gambler Slade in The Cincinnati Kid, and appeared in Francis Ford Coppolas second film as director, Youre a Big Boy Now, in 1966. His stage career flourished at the same time, and reflected his burgeoning interest in radical politics: he appeared in James Baldwins 1964 play, Blues for Mr Charlie, based on the murder of Emmett Till though he later fell out with Baldwin, after the writer softened some of the plays controversial scenes after it transferred to Londons West End.

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