American actor Rip Torn has passed away peacefully in his home, aged 88 years-old, his representatives have confirmed.
Born in Temple, Texas in 1931, Torn made the move to Hollywood in the 1950s, making his feature film debut in Baby Doll (1956) as a dentist before studying under Lee Strasberg at the prestigious Actors Studio in New York and earning much acclaim for his Broadway role in Sweet Bird of Youth.
In the 1960s, Torn guest-starred in villainous roles on many top TV shows, such as Boris Karloff’s Thriller, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Untouchables, Route 66 and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Legend has it that he was all set for Jack Nicholson’s career-making role in Easy Rider (1969) before things went became tense. Years later, on The Tonight Show, Dennis Hopper, the film’s director, claimed that Torn had pulled a knife on him in a diner and so was sacked. However, Torn said it was Hopper that pulled the knife on him and sued for libel, winning $475,000 in damages.
Torn is perhaps best known to sci-fi fans for his portrayal of Zed, the head of the top secret government organization, in the first couple of Men in Black films. His other genre appearances include the TV series Ghost Story aka Circle of Fear (1972), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Coma (1978) A Stranger Is Watching (1982), The Beastmaster (1982), Scarab (1983), Dolly Dearest (1991), and as the corrupt CEO in RoboCop 3 (1995). He also hosted supernatural anthology series Ghost Stories in 1997.
Don Coscarelli (director of Phantasm and The Beastmaster) has tweeted: “As a young filmmaker I was blown away by Rip Torn’s performance in Payday. We became friends working together on The Beastmaster. I’ll always look back fondly on meeting up at his little crash pad for lunches in Malibu- and the great Hollywood stories he’d tell. RIP dear friend.”