Rip Torn, Artie the Producer on ‘The Larry Sanders Show,’ Dies at 88

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Rip Torn, the tenacious, temperamental Texan whose much-admired career was highlighted by his brilliant turn as Artie the producer on HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show, died Tuesday. He was 88.

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Torn, who was nominated for an Oscar for portraying the hard-drinking father Marsh opposite Mary Steenburgen in the 1984 Martin Ritt drama Cross Creek, died peacefully at his home in Lakeville, Connecticut, his publicist announced.

 

His wife, Amy Wright — an actress known for Stardust Memories and The Accidental Tourist — and his daughters, Katie and Angelica, were by his side.

 

Torn wowed critics as the fiercely protective Artie (his last name was never mentioned during the series) on The Larry Sanders Show, which starred Garry Shandling as a neurotic late-night TV talk-show host.

The groundbreaking sitcom ran from 1992-98, and Torn received an Emmy nomination for every one of its six seasons, winning in 1996. His character was said to be based on Fred De Cordova, the longtime producer of Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show.

 

 

A few years after the end of Larry Sanders, Torn’s unpredictability and intensity were smartly channeled on NBC’s 30 Rock, where he played Don Geiss, the amped-up CEO of General Electric and Jack Donaghy’s (Alec Baldwin) boss. He received another Emmy nom in 2008, the ninth of his career.

 

In other comedic turns, he portrayed Zed, the head of the top secret government organization, in the first two Men in Black films; had fun as Patches O’Houlihan, a legend of his sport, in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004); and played King Looney in the sword-and-sandals spoof The Legend of Awesomest Maximus (2011).

 

As good as he was in comedy, Torn was at his best in dark dramas. He earned a Tony nomination in 1960 for playing Thomas J. Finley Jr. in Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth and was the shifty blackmailer William Jefferson Slade in The Cincinnati Kid (1965).

 

Onscreen debauchery was a specialty. He played a psychiatrist filming the women he sleeps with in the pornographic Coming Apart (1969); was a womanizing college professor who becomes David Bowie’s confidant in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976); and stood out as an egomaniacal record producer who seduces a young blonde in Forty Shades of Blue (2005).

 

Torn was married from 1963-87 to the acclaimed actress Geraldine Page, whom he met at the Actors Studio in New York. One of the leading acting couples of their era, they founded the off-Broadway Sanctuary Theater Workshop in 1976. They were separated when she died of a heart attack in 1987 at age 62.

 

Torn also helped launch the Oscar-winning career of his cousin, actress Sissy Spacek, who was the daughter of his Uncle Ed.

 

Torn was an “actor’s actor,” but he had a reputation as a trouble-maker.

 

Legend has it that he was all set for Jack Nicholson’s career-making role in Easy Rider (1969) before things went awry. Dennis Hopper, the film’s director, said years later on The Tonight Show that Torn had pulled a knife on him in a diner, costing him the job. Torn said it was Hopper that pulled the knife on him and sued for libel, winning $475,000 in damages.

 

Torn landed his first major movie role with Time Limit (1957), a court-martial drama in which he played a prisoner-of-war survivor who cracks on the witness stand. He went on to appear in another military-set drama, Pork Chop Hill (1959), and appeared as Judas in King of Kings (1961).

 

Also in the 1960s, Torn portrayed Ingrid Bergman’s young lover in the CBS prestige project Twenty-Four Hours in a Woman’s Life and guest-starred on many top TV shows of the era, including The Untouchables, Route 66 and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., exuding what one reviewer described as an “air of menace.”

 

After Torn met with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in an attempt to start an integrated national theater in 1963, he was targeted by the FBI and found trouble finding work in major motion pictures. “I began to see things in gossip columns, stories about me,” he once said.

 

In 1970, on the day after Torn spoke out against the Vietnam War on The Dick Cavett Show, a bullet was fired through the window of his Manhattan home.

 

He soldiered on, appearing on stage and in such films as Payday (1973), playing a mean, manipulative country singer, and the Italian import Crazy Joe (1974), as a gangster. Much later, he portrayed Louis XV for Sofia Coppola in Marie Antoinette (2006).

 

Torn is also survived by his sister, Patricia, and his grandchildren Elijah, Tana, Emeris and Hannah.

Written By: Tommy Lightfoot Garrett
Photographs are Courtesy:   AP
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