Actor Rip Torn, star of Men in Black and Air NZ safety video, dies aged 88

Award-winning television, film and theatre actor Rip Torn has died at the age of 88, according to his publicist.

Rip Torn. Source: Getty

Torn was most famous for his role in the Men in Black movies, where he appeared as Agent Zed alongside Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.

He reprised the role for Air New Zealand's All Blacks themed safety video in 2015.

Torn also starred in a number of Broadway shows during his long and varied career, as well as cult comedy films Dodgeball and Freddy Got Fingered.

Torn died Tuesday afternoon (local time) at his home with his wife, Amy Wright, and daughters Katie Torn and Angelica Page by his side, according to his publicist Rick Miramontez. No cause of death was given.

His career on stage and screen spanned seven decades, ranging from an early career of dark, threatening roles to iconic comedic performances later in life.

After acclaimed performances in Cross Creek, 'Sweet Bird of Youth and other dramas, Torn turned to comedy to capture his Emmy as the bombastic, ethically challenged television producer in The Larry Sanders Show.

Created by and starring Garry Shandling, HBO's spoof of TV talk shows aired from 1992 to 1998 and is widely credited with inspiring such satirical programs as 30 Rock and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Born Elmore Rual Torn, the actor adopted the name Rip in his boyhood, following the tradition of his father and uncle. It was the subject of endless ridicule during his early days as a stage actor in New York, and fellow drama students urged him to change it.

With customary stubbornness, he refused, eventually overcoming the jokes with a series of powerful performances that led to his being regarded, along with Marlon Brando, Paul Newman and James Dean, as actors of a postwar generation who brought tense realism to their craft.

He was also a political activist who joined James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte and other cultural and civil rights leaders for a frank and emotional 1963 meeting with then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy about the country's treatment of blacks.