Rip Torn, actor known for 'Men in Black' and 'The Larry Sanders Show,' dies at 88

Ross A. Lincoln

Rip Torn, the actor best known for playing Artie on HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show” and Zed in ‘Men in Black’ died Tuesday at his home in Lakeville, Connecticut, his representatives said. He was 88.

In a career spanning more than six decades, Torn established himself as a versatile performer, appearing in 10 Broadway plays and directing one, more than 80 feature films, and dozens of television appearances.

Born Elmore Rual Torn Jr. in Temple, Texas in 1931, Torn studied acting at Texas A&M and the University of Texas and served a stint in the US Army before heading to Los Angeles in the mid 1950s to pursue an acting career. He made his film debut with an uncredited role in Elia Kazan’s 1956 film “Baby Doll” before relocating to New York City to study at the Actor’s Studio.

From there he established himself as a prolific stage actor, making his Broadway debut in the original cast of Tennessee Williams’ “Sweet Bird of Youth” as as “Tom, Jr.”, a role he would reprise for the feature film and TV movie adaptations. We was nominated for a Tony award in 1960 and received a Theater World award for his performance.

Known for his gravely drawl and sinister-looking smile, Torn excelled playing shady, amoral characters and outright villains, such as his depiction of the villain Maax in the fantasy film “Beastmaster,” but he could also project no-nonsense authority figures, like the celestial attorney Bob Diamond in Albert Brooks’ “Defending Your Life,” or Zed in the first two “Men in Black” films. And in one of his most celebrated later roles, he combined those attributes in “DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story,” playing the sleazy mentor Patches O’Houlihan, and delivering one of the film’s funniest lines: “if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.”

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