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James Lipton (1926–2020), host of “Inside the Actors Studio”

by Linnea Crowther

James Lipton was the longtime host of Bravo’s popular interview program, “Inside the Actors Studio.” Lipton was also an actor with a recurring role on “Arrested Development” as well as other projects including voicing the Director in Disney’s animated film “Bolt.”

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Died: March 2, 2020 (Who else died on March 2?)


Details of death: Died at home in New York City of bladder cancer at the age of 93.

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Creating “Inside the Actors Studio”: Lipton conceived the idea of “Inside the Actors Studio,” a program on which he interviewed famous actors, writers and directors and gave each guest a chance to answer questions from acting students. The idea sprung from his association with the Actors Studio, the acclaimed home of method acting where hundreds of stars have learned and honed their craft.

Lipton, a member of the Actors Studio, was inspired by all he had learned in his years there to create the Actors Studio Drama School in conjunction with New York’s New School University. “Inside the Actors Studio” became a project of the school, allowing its students to have question-answer sessions with those working successfully in the business.

With Lipton conducting the interviews and students typically getting a chance to ask their questions at the end, “Inside the Actors Studio” premiered on Bravo in 1994. The interviews, typically running several hours before being edited for television, featured Lipton’s incisive questions, formulated after much research into upcoming subjects. He often knew surprising facts about his subjects and gave them a chance to expand on the information he had.

Lipton also asked 10 standard questions to each guest, including, “What sound or noise do you love?” and, “What is your least favorite word?” The long-running program featured guests including Robin Williams, Cate Blanchett, Spike Lee, Lauren Bacall and Steven Spielberg. Lipton retired from “Inside the Actors Studio” in 2018, though the show continues with a series of guest hosts.

Lipton’s other projects: Though Lipton was known best as an interviewer, he also was an actor and a writer. Born Sept. 19, 1926, in Detroit, Michigan, he initially intended to be a lawyer, with acting as a way to make some cash for his college bills. A role on the radio serial “The Lone Ranger” led to roles writing for soap operas including “Another World” and “The Edge of Night,” which led to a 10-year acting role on “The Guiding Light.” The legal career was forgotten in favor of an acting career that also included roles in the movie “Big Break” and the TV show “Arrested Development.” Lipton also wrote books including the 1981 novel “Mirrors.”

Lipton on his favorite interview: “What I’ve waited for is that one of my graduated students has achieved so much that he walks out and sits down on that chair next to me. It happened when Bradley Cooper walked out on that stage. We looked at each other and burst into tears. It was one of the greatest nights of my life.” —from a 2013 interview with Parade magazine

What people said about him: “His signature question was ‘if Heaven existed and you went up to find St. Peter waiting at the pearly gates, what would you want him to say?’ The answer from actors was always ‘good job.’ I’m sure he’s hearing the same. Fantastic interviewer, great show.” —Sportswriter Greg Wyshynski

“RIP James Lipton, we loved having you come on our show to share your love of TV and film.” —CNN host Jake Tapper

“Rest in peace James Lipton. I have learnt so much from you, sir. Thank you for your contribution to this world and this industry.” —Actor Costa Ronin

Full obituary: The New York Times

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