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Rip Torn: A Brief History of His Greatest Science-Fiction Roles

Sadly Rip Torn, best known for the Men in Black movies, has died. Elmore Rual "Rip" Torn Jr. was born February 6, 1931, and died on July 9, 2019, at 88. Torn was an actor, voice artist, and comedian.

Torn was a character actor and accumulated an impressive set of awards and nominations. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for Cross Creek in 1984. He was nominated for six consecutive Emmy Awards thanks to his role on The Larry Sanders Show and won in 1996. He also won an American Comedy Award and two CableACE Awards for his work on the show. His role as Chief Zed in Men in Black (1997) earned him a Satellite Award nomination in 1997.

The man was a legend and a master of his craft and he will be missed. So let's look back at the greatest science fiction movies of Rip Torn.

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) - Nathan Bryce (Rip Torn), Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie)

David Bowie has his first acting role in this trippy sci-fi movie where he plays an alien who comes to Earth looking to send water to his dying planet. By the end, he gets crippled by addiction to alcohol and sex.

Torn plays Dr. Nathan Bryce a man who discovers his secret. The movie captures the art house feel of the 1970s and allows Torn to explore his artistic side with a strong character role.

Coma (1978)

Coma (1978) - Dr. George (Rip Torn)
Michael Crichton is best known for Jurassic Park, but he also used his knowledge of the medical world to direct this tense medical drama with a science-fiction edge. Patients start inexplicably slipping into comas after routine surgeries. One doctor Dr. Susan Wheeler (Genevieve Bujold) sets out to solve the mystery and end the string of comas and death. Torn plays Dr. George, chief of anesthesiology at Boston Memorial Hospital. His gruff persona and commanding presence lead the main actor and audience to think he's responsible for the mysterious comas happening at the hospital. But is she right?

Early in Rip Torn's career, his classic handsome features seemed to point him in the direction of a leading man. But his off-screen behavior left him down a different track. In 1970, on the set of Maidstone, he attacked director and co-star Norman Mailer with a hammer. Mailer defended himself by biting Torn's ear and drawing blood. This cemented his reputation as a tough guy and, years later, it was a hard image to break. But he found a way to parlay that into unforgettable character roles.

Airplane II: The Sequel (1982)

Airplane II: The Sequel (1982) - Bud Kruger (Rip Torn)
Back in the 1970s, the hit comedy film Airplane debuted about a man who has to pilot an airliner after the pilots fall sick. The sequel is set in space. Rip Torn plays a high powered executive named Bud Kruger. He's pressured by the Commissioner to launch the space shuttle Mayflower II. He plays a harried executive with messy red hair and a drunken gait. 

The movie bombed but does include a memorable role with Star Trek actor William Shatner as the head of the Moonbase.

That same year he played the evil Maax in the fantasy sword and sorcery movie The Beastmaster and proved he could be funny or scary in any role he played. He'd later be known for his outrageous comedic performance as Patches O'Houlihan in DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story.

RoboCop 3 (1993)

RoboCop 3 (1993) - The CEO (Rip Torn)

RoboCop 3 is the second sequel to the classic science-fiction movie about a policeman forced into a corporate cyborg police program. This time Torn plays another authority figure as the unnamed corporate head of OCP known only as "The CEO". He's brash, sweaty and obnoxious as only Rip Torn can be.

The next year Dennis Hopper repeated a story on the Tonight Show that Torn felt hurt his career. Hopper said in 1967 they were having dinner and Torn pulled a knife on him. Hopper said this cot him his role in the film Easy Rider. The actor sued him for defamation and won over $1 million in damages.

Men in Black (1997)

Men in Black (1997) - Chief Zed (Rip Torn)

Men in Black is a quirky science-fiction comedy about a secret government agency who hides the existence of extraterrestrials. Torn plays the gruff head of MiB named Chief Zed. His career had been revitalized playing Larry's producer Artie on The Larry Sanders Show when he was cast. Zed is the British way of saying "Z." The movie became a huge hit and his career got another big boost.

This is actually the second time he and Tommy Lee Jones would work together. Back in 1984 Rip Torn played Jones' father in the TV version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Men in Black II (2002)

Men in Black II (2002) - Chief Zed (Rip Torn)

The sequel to Men in Black brings Torn back as Zed. This time his character has a little more to do than yell at the agents and rounds out the character a bit more. While the movie has mixed reviews it still made an impressive $441.8 million. The success led to a sequel in 2012 but without Rip Torn.

After a series of incidents that culminated in Torn's arrest for drunkenly breaking into a bank in 2010, he was unable to return for the sequel. The character was killed off but Torn played an uncredited role as the Large-Headed Alien at Z's funeral in MiB 3.

Zoom (2006)

Zoom (2006) - General Larraby (Rip Torn)

In this movie that many consider a rip-off of Disney's The Incredibles Tim Allen plays Jack Shepard, a.k.a. "Captain Zoom" a retired superhero. He's called back into action to help train a new group of heroes for the "Zenith Project". Rip Torn plays General Larraby, the military head of the Zenith Project.

The movie is a massive bomb costing $75 million and making a grand total of $12 mil. But, that same year, Torn starred in the Academy award-winning historical drama Marie Antoinette playing the randy King Louis XV of France alongside Kirsten Dunst. So that was a good year for him.

After that Torn continued working and savoring life. He died at home with his wife, Amy Wright, and his daughters, Katie Torn and Angelica Page, by his side, his publicist, Rick Miramontez, told the Associated Press.

"Rip Torn died of natural causes peacefully at home in Lakeville, Connecticut," the statement read.

Rip Torn was a masterful actor and his gruff voice and outrageous sense of humor will be missed.

Which is our favorite movie starring Rip Torn? Let us know in the comments below!

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