Rip Torn is one of those “oh, that guy” character actors who’s been acting since the ’50s. Best known for his role as Zed in Men in Black, his appearance in Albert Brooks’ Defending Your Life, and his great turn in The Larry Sanders Show, Torn has been around. But in 1967, one fateful dinner changed everything.
Torn went to dinner with Peter Fonda, writer Terry Southern, and Dennis Hopper to talk about Torn taking a role in their new film Easy Rider. He was very interested in the part, but Torn and Hopper got into a fight. According to Torn, Hopper pulled a knife on him. According to Hopper, Torn was the knife puller. Peter Fonda claimed they were both trying to fight each other with butter knives and forks. Whoever got the knife first didn’t really matter, since the altercation lost Torn the job. Later, the part went to Jack Nicholson, and it took him from struggling actor to superstar overnight.
Hopper told the story of a knife-happy Torn around town, and it definitely hurt his career. Then, years later, when Torn gained success with the Larry Sanders show, Hopper brought the story up one more time on a 1994 episode of The Tonight Show. Hopper again accused Torn of pulling a knife and getting fired from Easy Rider, but this time, Torn wasn’t having it. He sued Hopper for defamation and won. Torn got $475,000 from Hopper’s pocket 30 years after the fact, but he never got Jack Nicholson’s career.