July 20, 2019

R.I.P. Rip Torn

““I get angry easily” sounds like hyperbole, but for Rip Torn, it may have been the understatement of the century.

The actor, who died Tuesday at his home in Connecticut at 88, was well known for his outsize outlaw persona. Most famously, he became enraged and struck Norman Mailer with a hammer while filming the latter’s 1968 film “Maidstone.” Naturally, that led to a fight that included Mailer biting Torn’s ear. That fight made its way into the film. Then in 2010, he broke into a Connecticut bank with a loaded gun. His argument: He wasn’t trying to rob the bank. He was just drunk and thought it was his house.

Oddly, this persona — along with his dramatic acting, which earned him an Oscar nomination for his role in 1984′s “Cross Creek” and several Tony nominations — was at the heart of his comedy, which remains the most endearing thing about him. By using that larger-than-life reputation to generate laughter rather than property damage, Torn gave us some of the most memorable characters in recent decades.

In honor of the late actor, here are the roles that defined his comedic presence.

Artie on “The Larry Sanders Show”
By the time Torn landed a role on an HBO comedy in 1992, he had portrayed three U.S. presidents: Ulysses S. Grant, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon. He’d also appeared in comedies, such as “Airplane II: The Sequel,” but most fans knew the towering man as a dramatic actor who could bring a scowl with a side of gruff masculinity to any role.

He imbued Artie with those very same qualities — only this time, his over-the-top toxic and threatening nature was played for laughs. The sitcom was a behind-the-scenes satire of a late-night show, this one hosted by Garry Shandling’s Larry Sanders. Artie, his producer, cares only about the show going well, so he keeps things running smoothly, often by threatening the show’s staff and guests.”

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