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Rip Torn was born Elmore Ruel Torn Jr. in Temple, Texas in 1931. He was named for his dad, who was nicknamed "Rip" (a family tradition) and he became "Rip" as well. He graduated from college with a major in animal husbandry, intending to own a ranch. But first he went to Hollywood, thinking he would quickly make a bunch of money so he could buy that ranch, but he only got one tiny role, and he moved to New York to join the Actor's Studio. He soon got many roles on Broadway and in TV. His best role in this period was in the play version Tennessee Williams' "Sweet Bird of Youth", which he would also play in the 1962 film version. But this ultra intense actor was pretty much limited to supporting roles, because while he clearly was an excellent actor, he just wasn't likeable at all, and he seemed plagued by inner demons. When Nicholas Ray looked for someone to play Judas in "King of Kings", he naturally turned to Rip Torn! Torn's inner demons extended past his film roles. In 1969 he was cast as the lawyer in Easy Rider, but Torn got into a fight with Dennis Hopper in a restaurant and threatened him with a knife, and he was fired, and Jack Nicholson was cast instead, and that role made him a major star! In 1970, Torn was making Maidstone with Norman Mailer, and they got into a fight on camera and Torn hit Mailer in the head with a hammer, and the two had a bloody fight, which was later included in the actual film. It was the only interesting part of the movie, and many think it was a publicity stunt, but I saw the movie in 1970 and it looked real to me, and both men are nutty enough that it certainly could have been real! Torn mostly drank his way through most of the next two decades, giving mostly lackluster performances in minor films and TV shows, and getting fired several times for his erratic behavior. Probably his best roles in this period were Richard Pearce's Heartland (about the great difficulties people encountered living in primitive 1910 Wyoming and if you never saw this, it is wonderful and well worth seeking out), and Cross Creek (nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for this film). But in 1992, he showed his rarely used dry comic talent when he played an angel in Albert Brooks' Defending Your Life, and the following year he was cast as Arthur on Garry Shandling's HBO TV show, "The Larry Sanders Show". Since then, he has worked steadily in TV and movies (whenever there is a part for a crazy old guy, Torn is surely first on the list!). MY favorite performances of his in this period are as Don Geiss on TV's "30 Rock" and as Patches O'Houlihan in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (the "If you can dodge wrenches, you can dodge balls" scene seems to sum up Torn's entire career!). Sadly, Torn has had many legal troubles in recent years related to his alcoholism. In early 2010, he was arrested for breaking into a closed bank with a firearm, and hopefully he received the treatment he so badly needed. Rip Torn lived his entire life on his own terms, and had he ever been able to conform to society's rules he might have had a major starring career, but in spite of everything, he still delivered many memorable roles in movies, and on TV and on Broadway. He passed away in 2019 at the age of 88.
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