Rip Torn belonged to a high-spirited tradition that was fuelled by too much booze and testosterone. Like it or not, we may never see their like again
The death of the film and TV star Rip Torn, whose drunken exuberance so often resulted in the breaking of glass, the splintering of wood and the bandaging of limbs, has led the industry to ponder that exotic creature whose rocknroll behaviour, from the 1960s onwards, persisted for decades to tolerant chortling from the similarly inclined or wistfully well-behaved gentlemen of the press. And that creature is the hellraiser a term that originates from a defiant credo espoused by the hard-drinking, hard-living Hollywood legend Richard Burton: God put me on this earth to raise sheer hell!
Peter OTooles death in 2013 led to a similar outpouring of grief for the booze legends who have evidently been replaced by corporate dullards, drinking mineral water, policing their own language and anxiously checking their mentions on Twitter. Once we had hellraisers: now we have disrupters, people who give Ted talks about their revolutionary new app for maximising your leisure time. Actors used to spend every penny getting fantastically drunk. Now George Clooney gets a reported $1bn for selling his Casamigos Tequila brand to the drinks retailer Diageo although Clooney was reported to lose his cool after a few drinks.
But isnt hellraiser just a euphemism for alcoholic narcissist? Isnt hellraising simply another supposedly amusing or picturesque aspect of arrogant behaviour that is becoming increasingly tiresome and objectionable, with wives and children left behind to pick up the pieces? Yes almost certainly. But there are certain kinds of determinant factor in hellraising, aside from drinking and even sexual politics: it is part of the postwar history of publicity and celebrity, and the varying histories of Britain, Ireland and the US, whose hellraisers were very different beasts.