Rip Torn  

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"Maidstone (1970) is now famous for the improvised fight between Norman Mailer and Rip Torn. As the camera rolled, Torn struck Mailer in the head with a hammer, intending to "kill his character". Mailer's scalp opened up, and a vicious fight ensued." --Sholem Stein

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Elmore Rual "Rip" Torn Jr. (February 6, 1931 – July 9, 2019) was an American actor, voice artist, and comedian.

To an international audience he is remembered for his roles in Coming Apart (1969), Maidstone (1970), Tropic of Cancer (1970) and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1974).

The book Cult Movie Stars describes his integrity and says that he "took parts only in films that he considered artistic and/or politically correct."

He was also known for his on-set conflicts. While filming Maidstone, Torn struck director and star Norman Mailer in the head with a hammer. With the camera rolling, Mailer bit Torn's ear and they wrestled to the ground. The fight continued until it was broken up by cast and crew members. The fight is featured in the film.

Contents

Film and television

After moving to Hollywood, Torn made his film debut in the 1956 film Baby Doll. Torn then studied at the Actors Studio in New York under Lee Strasberg, becoming a prolific stage actor, appearing in the original cast of Tennessee Williams' play Sweet Bird of Youth, and reprising the role in the film and television adaptations. While in New York, Torn introduced his cousin Sissy Spacek to the entertainment business, and helped her enroll in the Actors Studio.

One of Torn's earliest roles was in Pork Chop Hill, portraying the brother-in-law of Gregory Peck's character. He also had an uncredited role in A Face in the Crowd as Barry Mills. In 1957, Torn portrayed Jody in an early episode of The Restless Gun. In 1957, he starred as incarcerated Steve Morgan in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "Number Twenty-Two," and on the same series in 1961 he played a recently released prisoner, Ernie Walters, in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "The Kiss-Off."

After portraying Judas, betrayer of Jesus, in 1961's epic film King of Kings, Torn appeared as a graduate student with multiple degrees in 1963's television series Channing, and as Roy Kendall in the Breaking Point episode "Millions of Faces." In 1964, Torn appeared as Eddie Sanderson in the episode "The Secret in the Stone" in The Eleventh Hour and in the premiere of The Reporter.

In 1965, in the film The Cincinnati Kid, he played Slade, a corrupt New Orleans millionaire who pressures Steve McQueen during a high-stakes poker game. On television that year, Torn portrayed Colonel Royce in the episode "The Lorelei" of Twelve O'Clock High.

Following the aforementioned roles, he had turns as a character actor in numerous subsequent films (see below filmography).

The part of George Hanson in Easy Rider was written for Torn by Terry Southern, but according to Southern's biographer Lee Hill, Torn withdrew from the project after he and co-director Dennis Hopper got into a bitter argument in a New York restaurant (see on-set conflicts section below). Jack Nicholson played Hanson instead in a career-launching performance.

In 1972, Torn won rave reviews for his portrayal of a country and western singer in the cult film Payday. He co-starred with singer David Bowie in the 1976 science-fiction film, The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Torn received an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his role in 1983's Cross Creek as a poor neighbor of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings in the orange groves of Florida. He portrayed a Southern senator in 1979's The Seduction of Joe Tynan, opposite Alan Alda and Meryl Streep, and a music producer in Paul Simon's 1980 film One Trick Pony.

In 1982, Torn played a role as a holy man in the sword-and-sorcery movie The Beastmaster. He also co-starred in Jinxed!, a comedy with Bette Midler, and appeared as an airline executive in Airplane II: The Sequel. He played a Sheriff, opposite Treat Williams and Kris Kristofferson, in the 1984 thriller Flashpoint. Torn was nominated for the CableACE Award for his portrayal of Big Daddy in the 1984 Showtime production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He co-starred with John Candy as a man who helps a tourist win a sailboat race in the 1985 comedy Summer Rental. He had a brief role as Sheriff Hank Pearson in Extreme Prejudice.

In 1988, he ventured into directing with The Telephone. The screenplay was written by Terry Southern and Harry Nilsson and the film was produced by their company, Hawkeye. The story, which focused on an unhinged, out-of-work actor, had been written with Robin Williams in mind. After he turned it down, Whoopi Goldberg expressed a strong interest, but when production began, Torn reportedly had to contend with Goldberg constantly digressing and improvising and he had to plead with her to perform takes that stuck to the script.

Goldberg was backed by the studio, who also allowed her to replace Torn's chosen DP, veteran cinematographer John A. Alonzo, with her then-husband. As a result of the power struggle, Torn, Southern, and Nilsson cut their own version of the film, using the takes that adhered to the script and this was screened at the Sundance Film Festival, but the studio put together a rival version using other takes and it was poorly reviewed when it premiered in January 1988.

In 1990, he portrayed Colonel Fargo in By Dawn's Early Light, a film from HBO about a fictional world war.

In 1991, he portrayed Albert Brooks' character's celestial defense attorney in Defending Your Life. He was a jeweler who murdered his own nephew to steal a winning lottery ticket in an episode of Columbo that year on TV, "Death Hits the Jackpot."

In 1993, Torn portrayed the OCP CEO in RoboCop 3 and starred opposite Tantoo Cardinal in Where the Rivers Flow North. He was a Naval officer presiding over a wargame in the Kelsey Grammer submarine comedy Down Periscope in 1996.

In 1997, Torn appeared in the Disney film Hercules, in which he voiced the god Zeus.

Torn played MIB agency boss Zed in the 1997 hit film Men in Black, starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, a role he reprised in the 2002 sequel Men in Black II.

In 2001, Torn memorably portrayed James "Jim" Brody in the comedy film Freddy Got Fingered.

In 2004, Torn played the iconic wrench-tossing coach Patches O'Houlihan in DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story.

Filmography

Film

Year Title Role Notes
1956 Baby Doll The Dentist Uncredited
1957 A Face in the Crowd Barry Mills Uncredited
Time Limit Lt. George Miller
1959 Pork Chop Hill Lt. Walter B. Russell
1961 King of Kings Judas Iscariot
1962 Sweet Bird of Youth Thomas J. Finley, Jr.
Hero's Island Nicholas Gates
1963 Critic's Choice Dion Kapakos
1965 The Cincinnati Kid Slade
1966 You're a Big Boy Now I.H. Chanticleer
One Spy Too Many Alexander (archive footage)
1967 Beach Red Sergeant Honeywell
1968 Sol Madrid Dano Villanova
Beyond the Law Popcorn
1969 Lions Love THE BEARD Director Uncredited
Coming Apart Joe
Tropic of Cancer Henry Miller
1970 Maidstone Raoul Rey O'Houlihan
1972 Slaughter Dominic Hoffo
Payday Maury Dann
1973 The President's Plane Is Missing George Oldenburg TV movie
Cotter Roy
1974 Crazy Joe Richie
1976 The Man Who Fell to Earth Dr. Nathan Bryce
Birch Interval Thomas
1977 Nasty Habits Father Maximilian
The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover Dwight Webb
1978 Coma Dr. George
1979 The Seduction of Joe Tynan Senator Kittner
Heartland Clyde Stewart
1980 One Trick Pony Walter Fox
First Family General G. E. Dumpston
1982 A Stranger Is Watching Artie Taggart
The Beastmaster Maax
Jinxed! Harold Benson
Airplane II: The Sequel Bud Kruger
1983 Cross Creek Marsh Turner Nominated – Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1984 Misunderstood Will
Flashpoint Sheriff Wells
Songwriter Dino McLeish
City Heat Primo Pitt
1985 Summer Rental Scully
Beer Buzz Beckerman
1987 Extreme Prejudice Sheriff Hank Pearson
Nadine Bufford Pope
1988 Blind Curve Maheu
1989 Hit List Vic Luca
Cold Feet Sheriff
Zwei Frauen Dr. Markowitz
1990 Beautiful Dreamers Walt Whitman
By Dawn's Early Light Colonel Fargo TV movie
1991 Defending Your Life Bob Diamond
1992 Dolly Dearest Karl Resnick
Beyond the Law Deputy Butch Prescott
1993 RoboCop 3 OCP CEO
Where the Rivers Flow North Noel Lord
1995 For Better or Worse Captain Cole
Canadian Bacon General Dick Panzer
How to Make an American Quilt Arthur
1996 Down Periscope Vice Adm. Dean Winslow
The Mouse Trucker 'God'
1997 Trial and Error Benny Gibbs
Hercules Zeus (voice)
Men in Black Zed Nominated – Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
1998 Senseless Randall Tyson
1999 The Insider John Scanlon
2000 Wonder Boys Quentin "Q" Morewood
2001 Freddy Got Fingered Jim Brody Nominated – Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor
2002 Men in Black II Zed
2003 Rolling Kansas Oldman
Love Object Novak
2004 Welcome to Mooseport Bert Langdon
DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story Patches O'Houlihan
Eulogy Edmund Collins
2005 Forty Shades of Blue Alan James
The Sisters Dr. Chebrin
Yours, Mine & Ours Commandant Sherman
2006 Marie Antoinette Louis XV
Zoom Larraby
2007 Turn the River Teddy Quinette
Bee Movie Lou Lo Duca (voice)
Three Days to Vegas Joe Wallace
2008 August David Sterling
Lucky Days Bobo
The Golden Boys Captain Jeremiah "Jerry" Burgess
2009 Happy Tears Joe
American Cowslip Trevor O'Hart
The Afterlight Carl
2011 The Legend of Awesomest Maximus King Looney
3 Weeks to Daytona Sal
2012 Men in Black 3 Large-Headed Alien at Funeral Uncredited
Bridge of Names Tom
2013 Johnny Kidd Frank Final film appearance

Television

Year Title Role Notes
1957 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Steve Morgan #22 Episode: "Number Twenty-Two
1961 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Ernie Walters Episode: "The Kiss-Off
1962 Naked City Ansel Boake Episode: "A Case of Two Savages"
1962, 1964 Dr. Kildare John Burroughs/Dr. Keefe 2 episodes
1963 The Lieutenant GySgt Karl Kasten Episode: "The Proud and the Angry"
1964 Combat! Sgt Avery Episode: "A Gift of Hope"
1965 The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Mr. Alexander 2 episodes
Mannix Victor Roarke Episode: "The Open Web"
Rawhide Chiricahua Chief Jacob Yellow-Sun Episode: "Escort to Doom"
1971 Bonanza Will Hewitt Episode: "Blind Hunch"
1978 Steel Cowboy K.W. Hicks Television film
The Eddie Capra Mysteries Kilraine Episode: "The Intimate Friends of Janet Wilde"
Rape and Marriage: The Rideout Case Charles Burt Television film
1980 Sophia Loren: Her Own Story Carlo Ponti Television film
1982 Blind Ambition Richard Nixon Miniseries
Unknown episodes
The Blue and the Gray Gen. Ulysses S. Grant Miniseries
3 episodes
1984 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Big Daddy Showtime production
Nominated for CableACE Award for Actor in a Theatrical or Dramatic Special
1985 The Atlanta Child Murders Lewis Slaton Miniseries
3 episodes
1986 Dream West Kit Carson Miniseries
2 episodes
1988 April Morning Solomon Chandler Television film
1989 Sweet Bird of Youth Boss Finley Television film
1991 Columbo Leon Lamarr Episode: "Death Hits the Jackpot"
Another Pair of Aces: Three of a Kind Captain Jack Parsons Television film
1992–1998 The Larry Sanders Show Artie 89 episodes
1994 Heaven and Hell: North and South Book III Adolphus Miniseries
3 episodes
1995 Letter to My Killer Russel Vanik Television film
1997–1998 Ghost Stories Narrator 44 episodes
1999 Balloon Farm Harvey H. Potter Television film
2002 Maniac Magee George McNab Television film
Will & Grace Lionel Banks 4 episodes
2006 Law & Order: Criminal Intent Jules Copeland Episode: "Bedfellows"
2007–2009 30 Rock Don Geiss 7 episodes
2016 TripTank M (voice) Episode: "#InsideRoy"
Final appearance before his death

Video games

Year Title Voice role Notes Source
1997 Hercules Zeus
1998 Hercules Animated StoryBook
2010 God of War III Hephaestus

On-set conflicts

Appearing as an interview subject in Studs Terkel's 1974 oral-history book Working, Torn confessed, "I have certain flaws in my make-up. Something called irascibility. I get angry easily. I get saddened by things easily."

While filming Maidstone (1970), Torn struck director and star Norman Mailer in the head with a hammer. With the camera rolling, Mailer bit Torn's ear and they wrestled to the ground. The fight continued until it was broken up by cast and crew members. The fight is featured in the film. Although the scene may have been planned by Torn, the blood shed by both actors was real, and Torn was reportedly outraged by Mailer's direction.

In 1994, he filed a defamation lawsuit against Dennis Hopper over a story Hopper told on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Hopper claimed that Torn pulled a knife on him during pre-production of the film Easy Rider (1969). According to Hopper, Torn was originally cast in the film, but was replaced with Jack Nicholson after the incident. Torn claimed in his lawsuit that Hopper pulled the knife on him. A trial court judge ruled in Torn's favor and Hopper was ordered to pay $475,000 in compensatory damages, but denied Torn's request for punitive damages, ruling Hopper had not acted with malice. Hopper appealed. On April 1, 1998, a California appellate court upheld the ruling for compensatory damages, and reversed the ruling for the punitive damages, requiring Hopper to pay another $475,000.





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