In Hollywood, some people become movie stars and other people become what they call "character actors." These are people playing the roles that are rarely the leads, but are always important to the story, necessary to make everything else work. Sometimes, however, if you play enough of those roles for long enough, you can become a movie star anyway.
That's what happened to Rip Torn. He ended up working in such high profile movies and TV roles often enough that he became a face you knew, and he had a name you'd remember. With nearly 200 screen credits in over 50 years of professional work Rip Torn was unforgettable. Unfortunately, we'll never get another of those memorable roles, as THR reports Rip Torn passed away yesterday at his home at the age of 88.
Rip Torn's first official credit came in 1956 from a segment of the television series Omnibus. From there he would make numerous TV guest appearances. His first credited big screen appearance would come in 1957's Time Limit.
After that Rip Torn always had work to do. He worked regularly in both TV and film during eras when television work was often looked down upon by Hollywood. Maybe that's why he never became a big star, but he made a living and he popped up in films and television so often that he was impossible to avoid.
That's not to say he didn't find himself in significant roles on occasion. Torn was nominated for an Oscar in 1984 for his role in Cross Creek.
Because of his regular work in both film and television, he found himself in quite iconic roles in both mediums. On television, he played Arthur, the Ed McMahon to Gary Shandling's Johnny Carson on HBO's The Larry Sanders Show in the 90s. He would be nominated for the Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a comedy six times for the role, winning the award once.
The first movie I can remember seeing Rip Torn in was 1982's The Beastmaster. It was a film that aired endlessly on basic cable in the late 80s and early 90s.
My favorite of his roles is probably in Albert Brooks' 1991 comedy Defending Your Life. It's a hilarious comedy where Torn plays an after life attorney trying to help argue that Brooks' character should get to go to heaven, despite the poor decisions he may have made in life. Albert Brooks also marked the passing of Rip Torn.
Neil Gaiman marked the passing of Rip Torn by remarking that a brief interaction with the man was an early inspiration for his character of Mr. Wednesday in American Gods.
Rip Torn's career had a clear influence on a lot of people and he will be missed by many.