Entertainment

Emmy-winning actor Rip Torn dies aged 88

The star of stage and screen died at home on Tuesday.

Award-winning television, film and theatre actor Rip Torn has died at the age of 88, his publicist said.

Rick Miramontez said Torn died on Tuesday afternoon at his home with his wife, Amy Wright, and daughters Katie Torn and Angelica Page by his side.

No cause of death was given.

Torn was a free-spirited Texan who overcame his quirky name to become a distinguished actor, enjoying a career on stage and screen spanning seven decades.

He won an Emmy late in his career for his comedy turn on TV’s The Larry Sanders Show, playing the role of Artie, the bombastic, ethically challenged television producer.

Rip Torn
Torn won an Emmy and was nominated for an Oscar during a seven-decade career (AP Photo/Michael Caulfield, File)

Created by and starring Garry Shandling, HBO’s spoof of TV talk shows aired from 1992 to 1998.

Born Elmore Rual Torn, the actor adopted the name Rip in his boyhood, following the tradition of his father and uncle.

It was the subject of endless ridicule during his early days as a stage actor in New York, and fellow drama students urged him to change it.

With customary stubbornness, he refused, eventually overcoming the jokes with a series of powerful performances that led to his being regarded, along with Marlon Brando, Paul Newman and James Dean, as actors of a post-war generation who brought tense realism to their craft.

Torn made his film debut in 1956 in an adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll and within a few years was a respected film and television actor, working on occasions with his second wife, Geraldine Page.

At the Actors Studio, he gained the attention of Elia Kazan, who hired him as understudy to Alex Nicol, then playing Brick Pollitt in the Tennessee Williams classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Towards the end of the show’s Broadway run, Torn took over the role of the alcoholic, emotionally troubled former football hero. He did so billed against his wishes as Elmore Torn.

Cast later in a US Steel Hour production for television, he was told to either change his name or forfeit the role.

Obit Rip Torn
He was born in Texas in 1931 (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File)

He threatened to return to his native Texas, but finally agreed to be credited as Eric Torn. He was billed as Rip Torn thereafter.

His success eventually inspired a younger cousin to take up acting, too — Oscar winner Sissy Spacek.

Other film credits included Critics Choice and The Cincinnati Kid, while on television he played such figures as Richard Nixon, Lyndon B Johnson and Walt Whitman.

His career hit a dry spell in the 1970s, and he blamed it on the buzz in Hollywood at the time that he was difficult to work with, a reputation sealed when tension on the set of Easy Rider led to his being replaced by Jack Nicholson for the 1969 release and missing out on one of the biggest hits of the era.

“I wouldn’t say that I was blacklisted,” he told The Associated Press in 1984, “but the word got around that I was difficult and unreliable. Unreliable! In all my years in the theatre I have never missed a performance.”

He managed to keep working in small projects in theatre, films and TV, returning to the mainstream in 1983 with Cross Creek, in which he played table-smashing backwoodsman Marsh Turner. The role brought him his only Oscar nomination, for best supporting actor.

City Heat and Men In Black were some of his other films.

Born in Temple, Texas, Torn initially studied agriculture at Texas A&M and acting at the University of Texas.

Rip Torn
Torn played Richard Nixon in Blind Ambition, an eight-hour film for television (AP Photo/Doug Pizac, File)

After service as a military policeman during the Korean War, he hitchhiked to Hollywood. Landing only tiny roles in movies and TV dramas, and supporting himself as a fry cook and dishwasher, he decided to shift to New York and seek more training as an actor.

Torn and his first wife, actress Ann Wedgeworth, had a daughter, Danae, before divorcing.

In 1963 he married Page, with whom he had co-starred in the touring production and movie version of Sweet Bird of Youth.

They had three children – a daughter, Angelica, and twins Jon and Tony – and appeared in productions together until her death in 1987.

Torn also had two children, Katie and Claire, with actress Amy Wright.

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