Rip Torn, veteran actor best known to genre fans for his role in the Men in Black franchise, has passed away. He was 88. Torn was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1984 for his part as Marsh Turner in Cross Creek. He was nominated for six Emmy Awards — and won one, in 1996 — for his role as Artie the producer on The Larry Sanders Show. According to his publicist, Torn passed away peacefully this afternoon at his home in Lakeville, Connecticut. His wife, Amy Wright, and his daughters Katie Torn and Angelica Page were by his side.
Torn made his film debut in the 1956 film Baby Doll from director Elia Kazan. He would spend the next sixty-plus years as an accomplished performer on film, TV, and stage. An original member of the cast of Tennessee Williams’ play Sweet Bird of Youth, he would go on to appear in both the 1962 feature film version alongside Paul Newman and a 1989 made-for-TV adaptation starring starring Elizabeth Taylor, Mark Harmon, and Valerie Perrine. Between 1957 and 1967, Torn appeared in a pair of Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes as well as in movies like The Cincinnati Kid, Twelve O’Clock High, and King of Kings, in which he played Judas Iscariot.
Torn almost played George Hanson in the classic Easy Rider (the role was written with him in mind), but withdrew from the project after he and star Dennis Hopper couldn’t get along. In 1994, Torn sued Hopper after Hopper claimed during an appearance on The Tonight Show that Torn was fired from the film after pulling a knife on him. The judge ruled in Torn’s favor and awarded the actor $475,000 in compensatory damages, but declined to award him any punitive damages. Hopper appealed and, on appeal, also had to pay another $475,000 in punitive damages.
Before his Oscar-nominated turn in Cross Creek, he would appear in a couple of cult hits — Payday in 1972 and 1976’s David Bowie vehicle The Man Who Fell To Earth. That one, along with Beastmaster, gave Torn his genre cred long before Men in Black came along. Years later, he would return to that realm with RoboCop 3 and Disney’s animated Hercules, in which he voiced Zeus. Torn voiced the character of Hephaestus in the 2010 video game, God of War III.
Meanwhile, he lent his considerable gravitas to a number of popular comedies, from Jinxed! and Airplane II: The Sequel to Defending Your Life. In addition to The Larry Sanders Show, Torn had a memorable role on 30 Rock, where he played Jack’s (Alec Baldwin) mentor Don Geiss. While Torn continued to work until 2016, voicing a character in an episode of TripTank, his final live-action appearance may have been reprising the role of Zed, his Men in Black character, in a 2015 Air New Zealand short.
Our thoughts go out to Rip Torn‘s friends, family, and fans at this difficult time.