Rip Torn: actor, Hollywood hell-raiser... and bank robber?

Veteran star found with loaded gun in bank after mistaking it for his house

Guy Adams
Monday 01 February 2010 01:00
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Asked to explain how he could walk un-noticed around his native Connecticut, despite a hugely successful career that has spanned half a century and featured his distinctively craggy face in some of Hollywood's most famous blockbusters, Rip Torn once declared that "the greatest actors can disappear", boasting to an interviewer that friends call him "the Blend-In Man" on account of his ability to keep a low profile.

They'll have to think up a new nickname now. In the early hours of Saturday morning, the 79-year-old Emmy-winning actor was arrested and taken into custody for doing the very opposite of blending in. Police in the small commuter town of Salisbury, where Mr Torn now lives, discovered him armed and extremely drunk, having apparently decided to break into a local bank.

The veteran star, whose best-known recent film role came playing Will Smith's boss Agent Zed in the Men in Black trilogy, has been in custody ever since, and is scheduled to appear in Bantam superior court this morning facing five serious criminal charges, including burglary and possession of a firearm without a permit.

Police documents detailing his bizarre arrest reveal that officers sent to investigate an alarm going off at a local branch of the Litchfield Bank in the middle of the night encountered evidence of a break-in. When they searched the building, the police "confronted a white male within the premises, who was later identified as Elmore 'Rip' Torn".

Explaining why their suspect had been immediately taken to the local police station and held on the relatively steep bail of $100,000 [£62,500], Trooper James Parker's arrest summary adds: "It was then discovered that this individual was armed with a loaded revolver and highly intoxicated."

A spokesman for Torn has yet to comment on the incident, and the police report doesn't say whether prosecutors believe Torn, whose recent TV roles include recurring parts on two of America's most successful original sitcoms, 30 Rock and The Larry Sanders Show, actually intended to rob the bank. However, in an interview with the Los Angeles show business website TMZ, the chief executive of Litchfield Bancorp, Mark Macomber, said that the circumstances of the arrest suggested the star probably didn't intend to hurt anyone or steal money from the business.

Instead, the well-refreshed Dodgeball actor seems to have mistakenly thought the bank was his own home. After his key failed to open the front door, Torn seems to have broken in through a rear window and promptly passed out. To quote the title of another one of his most famous films, it wasn't so much a case of The Man Who Fell to Earth as the drunk who fell asleep.

If nothing else, that interpretation of the crime would at least seem true to form for Torn, who was brought up in Texas, achieved fame in the 1960s, and has over the years enjoyed a reputation as one of the most accomplished Hollywood hell-raisers of his generation, with a prodigious appetite for alcohol and a temper to match.

In 1970, on the set of Maidstone, he famously attacked director and co-star Norman Mailer with a hammer, after apparently growing unhappy with criticisms being made of his interpretation of a key scene. Mailer retaliated by biting his ear, and drawing blood.

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Their fight, which took place during filming of a scripted scene (Torn was playing Mailer's assassin), was eventually broken up by crew members, and parts of it were eventually included in the finished film. You can even hear Mailer's wife and children screaming in the background.

Only a decade ago, Torn successfully sued his former colleague Dennis Hopper for telling a 30-year-old anecdote on Jay Leno's chatshow about the 1969 cult film Easy Rider, in which he had originally been cast before being replaced by Jack Nicholson.

Hopper had told Leno that Torn was sacked after pulling a knife on him in a restaurant. Torn did not dispute that an argument had taken place between the two of them, but claimed Hopper was responsible for pulling the knife. A judge agreed, and awarded him $475,000 damages.

More recently, Torn – whose only Oscar nomination came in the 1983 film Cross Creek – has suffered frequent alcohol-related brushes with the law. In 2004, he was arrested for refusing a breathalyser test after crashing his car into a New York taxi. Despite being shown video footage of him swearing at officers, a jury acquitted Torn of drink driving.

In 2006, he collided with a tractor in New York State, and pleaded guilty to drink driving, for which he was banned for 90 days and fined. In 2009, he was given probation after being convicted of drink driving after police spotted him driving his 1994 Subaru estate, with a Christmas tree strapped to the top, in the emergency lane.

Following his latest arrest, Torn has been charged with five criminal counts, including carrying a pistol without a permit, carrying a firearm while under the influence, first-degree burglary and criminal mischief and trespass. In theory he could spend the rest of his life in prison if found guilty.

Mr Macomber, who is the nearest thing Torn's alleged crime has to a victim, has called the incident a "serious matter," but said Torn needed help with his alcohol problem rather than punishment.

Whether the local courts will also take such a charitable view of the incident, of course, remains to be seen.

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