Prolific stage, film and television actor Rip Torn, known for his role as Artie the producer on HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show and Zed in the first two Men in Black films, passed away on July 9, 2019. He was 88 years old.
Elmore Rual “Rip” Torn Jr. was born on February 6, 1931, in Temple, Texas. He graduated from the University of Texas where he studied acting under the Shakespeare professor B. Iden Payne, before serving in the Military Police in the Army. Torn made his film debut in the 1956 film Baby Doll, followed by roles in Pork Chop Hill and A Face in the Crowd. Under the tutelage of Lee Strasberg, Torn studied at the Actors Studio in New York and became a frequent face on the stage. He appeared in the original cast of Tennessee Williams’ play Sweet Bird of Youth, later reprising the role in the film and television adaptations. Torn won a Theatre World Award and also received a Tony Award nomination for this later role.
The temperamental Texan also starred in productions of Daughter of Silence, Strange Interlude, Blues for Mister Charlie, The Cuban Thing, The Glass Menagerie, Mixed Couples, Dance of Death, Anna Christie, The Young Man from Atlanta, Desire Under the Elms, The Kitchen, The Deer Park, Dream of a Blacklisted Actor, and Barbary Shore. He also directed the 1973 Broadway play Look Away, the off-Broadway plays The Beard – for which he won the Obie for Distinguished Direction – The Honest-to-God Schnozzia, Creditors and The Stronger.
After venturing into television, Torn appeared in episodes of The Restless Gun, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Channing, Breaking Point, The Eleventh Hour, Twelve O’Clock High and The Reporter. Between 1992 to 1998, Torn portrayed the gruff Artie onThe Larry Sanders Show. Torn’s outsize performance stole practically every scene he was in and earned him six consecutive Emmy nominations as Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, winning the award once. He also received two American Comedy Awards nominations for Funniest Male Performance in a Series, winning once, and two CableACE Awards for his work on the series.
Torn played Judas in the epic King of Kings, a corrupt millionaire in The Cincinnati Kid alongside Steve McQueen, co-starred with David Bowie in the sci-fi film The Man Who Fell to Earth and won rave reviews for his role in the cult film Payday. For his role as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ poor neighbor in Cross Creek, Torn received an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor. Additional credits include The Seduction of Joe Tynan, One Trick Pony, The Beastmaster, Jinxed!, Airplane II: The Sequel, Flashpoint, Summer Rental, Extreme Prejudice, By Dawn’s Early Light, RoboCop 3, Down Periscope, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, agency boss Zed in the hit films Men in Black and Men in Black II and voicing Zeus in Disney’s Hercules.
Torn was married three times, first to actress Ann Wedgeworth, then Geraldine Page until her death in 1987, before marrying actress Amy Wright in 1989. Along with Wright, Torn is survived by six children and four grandchildren.