Rip Torn, who played the Garry Shandling’s profane, fiercely loyal producer on HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show, co-starred in the original Men in Black films and won a Tony during a long Broadway career, died today surrounded by family at his home in Lakeville, CT. He was 88.
The prolific Torn played the unstoppable and unflappable Artie on Larry Sanders, which aired from 1992-98 and followed the behind-the-scenes and onstage antics of a successful late-night network talk show. Along with scoring a Supporting Actor in a Comedy Emmy in 1996, he was nominated for each of the show’s six seasons.
The year Torn won his Emmy, he also had been up for Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his turn on CBS’ Chicago Hope. In 2008, he earned his ninth and final Emmy nom, for his recurring role as Don Geiss on NBC’s 30 Rock. His first was for The Atlanta Child Murders in 1985.
Elmore Rual Torn, Jr. on February 6, 1931 in Temple, Texas, the versatile actor once said, “Play drama as comedy and comedy as drama.” He claimed that was his secret weapon.
Torn also earned an Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Cross Creek (1983) and a Best Featured Actor in a Play Tony Award in 1960 for Elia Kazan’s staging of Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth. He would reprise that role as Tom Finlay Jr. in the 1962 feature adaptation directed by Richard Brooks that also starred Paul Newman and Geraldine Page. Torn would marry Page in 1963.
Amassing nearly 200 film and TV credits during a seven-decade career — and 10 more on Broadway — Torn likely is best known to younger moviegoers as Agent Zed in the smash 1997 Will Smith-Tommy Lee Jones sci-fi comedy Men in Black and its 2002 sequel. He memorably also played tough-love Coach Patches O’Houlihan in the 2004 comedy Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, which starred Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller.
All that was a just a taste of Torn’s career, which began in the mid-1950s with guest roles in such TV series as Kraft Theatre, Pursuit, The Restless Gun, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Playhouse 90. He continued to work on the big and small screens throughout his career, appearing in dozens of popular TV shows including The Untouchables, Route 66, Dr. Kildare, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Rawhide and Combat! during the ’60s. He appeared in Norman Jewison’s The Cincinnati Kid (1965), which starred Steve McQueen, Ann-Margret, Karl Malden and Tuesday Weld.
Torn mostly worked in film during the 1970s, including a role opposite David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). He also played Richard Nixon in the 1979 miniseries Blind Ambition, starring Martin Sheen at POTUS 37’s special counsel John Dean — whose congressional testimony in the Watergate hearings ultimately would help topple Nixon.
Torn would continues to work throughout the 1980s, but it was his role opposite Albert Brooks in 1991’s Defending Your Life that grabbed Shandling’s attention. That led to Torn’s career role as the irascible but fatherly producer on The Larry Sanders Show.
Based loosely on Shandling’s experiences as guest host of The Tonight Show, it depicted late-night talk as a cesspool of ego, betrayal and unchecked ambition. Starring Shandling as Larry Sanders, the comedy helped launch or solidify the careers of such actors as Jeffrey Tambor, Janeane Garofalo, Wallace Langham, Bob Odenkirk and Jeremy Piven.
Torn is survived by his third wife, Amy Wright; daughters Katie Torn, Danae Torn, Claire Torn and Angelica Page; twin sons Tony and Jon Torn; sister Patricia Alexander; and four grandchildren. No memorial service plans were announced.