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Rip Torn (1931–2019), “Men in Black” and “The Larry Sanders Show” star

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The Emmy-winning actor's career spanned more than 50 years

Rip Torn was an Emmy-winning actor best known for his roles as Artie on television’s “The Larry Sanders Show” and as Chief Zed in the first two “Men in Black” movies. His career spanned more than 50 years, beginning in the 1950s with small movie roles and with two appearances on “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” as well as appearing on Broadway in plays including “Sweet Bird of Youth,” for which he received a Tony nomination. He made his mark in dramatic films of the 1960s and ‘70s including “The Cincinnati Kid,” “Payday,” and “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” and he was Oscar-nominated for “Cross Creek.” After a career slump in the 1980s, Torn remade his career as a comedic actor, winning an Emmy for “Larry Sanders” and shining in “Men in Black” as well as providing the voice of Zeus in Disney’s “Hercules” and appearing in movies “Defending Your Life” and “DodgeBall” and in a recurring role on “30 Rock.”

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Died: July 9, 2019 (Who else died on July 9?)

Details of death: Died at home in Lakeville, Connecticut at the age of 88.


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A reputation for volatility: Torn became known for his temper, a trait he acknowledged with chagrin: “I have certain flaws in my makeup. Something called irascibility. I get angry easily. I get saddened by things easily.” A memorable fight with Norman Mailer was immortalized on screen, as Torn improvised a scene in “Maidstone” by hitting Mailer, his director and costar, in the head with a hammer. Mailer retaliated by biting Torn’s ear. And Dennis Hopper repeatedly told a story of Torn being kicked out of “Easy Rider” for pulling a knife on him — though Torn vehemently denied that version of event, saying it was Hopper who pulled the knife. Torn eventually sued Hopper after he told the story on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” and Torn won.

Notable quote: “I used to get hurt when I was falsely accused of making trouble. I may be an actor, but I’m still a human being. …I just don’t give people trouble anymore. I say ‘Excuse me, I only fight with friends.’ And I walk away.” —from a 1997 interview with the Los Angeles Times

What people said about him: “I worked on @nbc30rock with #RipTorn in the role of Don Geiss the head of GE. He was a deeply committed, phenomenal actor. See you down the road, Rip. You wonderful madman.” —Alec Baldwin

“R.I.P. Rip Torn. He was so great in Defending Your Life. I’ll miss you Rip, you were a true original.” —Albert Brooks, director of “Defending Your Life”

“Everybody is praising Rip Torn for his turn as Artie on The Larry Sanders Show… and they should. It’s one of the finest roles in the history of TV comedy (sometimes hyperbole is called for). And don’t sleep on him in a great poker movie, The Cincinnati Kid.” —TCM host Ben Mankiewicz

“I met Rip Torn Once, in 1990, on a movie location in NC. ‘You write science fiction?’ he said, teeth in a scary grin. ‘I was in BEASTMASTER.’ Then he shook my hand and I ceased to exist for him. That was the start of Mr Wednesday in American Gods. RIP Rip.” —author Neil Gaiman

“Just heard the sad news that the great Rip Torn has passed away. Rip was a class act. He was an incredible actor. One of the greats. A true legend. I am proud to have worked with him and to have known him. Rest in peace Rip.” —Tom Green, who directed and starred with Torn in “Freddy Got Fingered”

“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.” —actor Michael McKean

Full obituary: New York Times

Related lives:

  • Garry Shandling (1949 - 2016), star of “The Larry Sanders Show”
  • Norman Mailer (1923 - 2007), Torn’s “Maidstone” costar and director
  • David Bowie (1947 - 2016), Torn’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth” costar