Take a look at Rip Torn’s resumé, which spans nearly 60 years, and you’ll see a career that literally had a little bit of everything. The actor, who died yesterday at the age of 88, had roles as varied as Henry Miller in the 1974 adaptation of Tropic of Cancer, alongside David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth and his 1984 Oscar-nominated turn as Marsh Turner in Cross Creek.
Torn worked in acclaimed films and questionable sequels (Airplane II: The Sequel and Robocop 3 come to mind), but played every role with the same vigor and spirit no matter what the job. His most famous role, perhaps, was as Artie the ill-tempered producer of The Larry Sanders Show. Alongside Gary Shandling and Jeffrey Tambor, the HBO sitcom that lasted from 1992 to 1998 won 24 major awards, including Emmys and CableACE awards and is routinely considered among the greatest American comedies ever.
Born Elmore Rual Torn Jr. on February 6, 1931 in Temple, Texas, Torn’s nickname was passed down as part of a family tradition. He graduated from the University of Texas, where he caught the acting bug while studying under Shakespearean professor B. Iden Payne. After college, he served a stint in the army, before landing a role in the 1957 Korean War drama, Pork Chop Hill, with Gregory Peck. He had roles in films alongside icons like Bob Hope and Steve McQueen, and was originally slated to play George Hanson in Easy Rider, but withdrew after getting into a fight with Dennis Hopper. Jack Nicholson ended up playing the role, which is credited with launching his career.
Whether it was on stage in a Tennessee Williams play, alongside comedy legends like Shandling or John Candy or his role as Don Geiss on 30 Rock, Torn’s was a career of trying things out and making them work. Even if it meant getting into a fight with Norman Mailer on screen and hitting him with a hammer while children stood around crying.
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