Emmy Award winner James Lipton, the influential drama dean who for more than two decades hosted revealing conversations about the acting craft on “Inside the Actors Studio,” has died. He was 93.
Lipton died Monday morning at home after a battle with bladder cancer, his wife, Kedakai Mercedes Lipton, told the New York Times.
The loquacious host was both exalted and lampooned for his hyperbole and over-the-top enthusiasm. He welcomed actors, filmmakers and writers on his long-running Bravo series to pull back the curtain on tricks of the trade, presenting professional questions to members of Hollywood’s elite.
“It was my child, it was my love!” Lipton told the L.A. Times in 2007. “Of course I had hopes, but remember, this show is not about gossip. When I started it, I said it’s going to be about craft, craft, craft. I had no dark hopes for it. I just had no way of guessing these things would happen — that one day … my friends would say, ‘You are getting a lifetime achievement award.’ I could not have looked ahead.”
For 24 years, the erudite multihyphenate divulged his experiences as an actor, theater, film and television director and producer, as well as choreographer, author, playwright, lyricist, screenwriter, author and academic. Yes, at one point he even worked as a “macro” in Paris’ red-light district, a topic broached during a sit-down with “Pretty Woman” star Julia Roberts.
Despite his rich backstory, the Michigan native was modest when he spoke of himself, telling The Times matter-of-factly, “I’ve never achieved anything that’s really exceptional in ways that others have.”
The interview show — Bravo’s first original series — was offered as part of a course in a master’s degree program at the renowned Actors Studio Drama School of Pace University in New York, of which Lipton was a founding dean. Each episode was a condensed version of a four- or five-hour master class in acting for graduate students.
“The relationship between the guest and the audience is totally different from any other show that I know of. Our guests come here because I’ve asked them to come and teach,” Lipton said in 2013. “I ask questions that will elicit answers that will be of use and interest to our students, and it turns out they’re of use and interest to Bravo’s 94 million subscribers.”
Luminaries, Oscar winners and former students plopped onto the studio’s couch and shared tales of rejection, words of wisdom and improvisational bits for students and the cameras. Also unlike talk shows, Lipton never conducted pre-interviews, resulting in him and his guest being “out here on a high wire for four hours.”
Lipton kicked off the series in 1994. His first guest was Paul Newman, but his favorite guest was former student Bradley Cooper. The “A Star Is Born” actor-director was a question-asking audience member as a student and went on to appear in five additional episodes — not as Lipton’s pupil but as his weeping guest.
Lipton interviewed Jane Fonda, Harrison Ford, Meryl Streep, George Clooney, Anthony Hopkins, Goldie Hawn, Jerry Lewis and Tom Hanks, among numerous others. He also managed to elicit revelations from Drew Barrymore, Jack Lemmon, Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie and Gene Wilder, as well as song, dance and improv performances from the likes of Carol Burnett, Robin Williams, Jamie Foxx, Will Smith, Sally Field and Dave Chappelle.
In 2018, Lipton stepped away from the series when it was announced that “Inside the Actors Studio” would be changing networks and getting new hosts. By then, it had received 19 Emmy nominations and one win with Lipton at the helm.
“It’s very gratifying to see the legacy of ‘Inside the Actors Studio’ being carried forward for a new generation to appreciate and enjoy,” Lipton said at the time.
His interview style became so well known that it was mercilessly spoofed by Sacha Baron Cohen on “Da Ali G Show” and by Will Ferrell on “Saturday Night Live.” “He feasted on me,” Lipton joked about Ferrell. “He devoured my flesh.”
But it also led to a role in Nora Ephron’s 2005 film “Bewitched,” which costarred Nicole Kidman and Ferrell, as well as dozens of appearances on his mentee Conan O’Brien’s talk shows and guest roles on “Arrested Development,” “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy” and “Glee.” He also served as a boardroom advisor on Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” in 2012.
Lipton began his television career writing for several soap operas, including “Another World,” “The Doctors” and “Guiding Light,” which he also starred in.
He also had a hand in numerous specials, including Jimmy Carter’s inaugural gala, which was the first presidential concert ever televised; 12 Bob Hope birthday specials; and “The Road to China.” He wrote and produced an adaptation of his dance novel, “Mirrors,” for NBC and wrote the story and teleplay for “Copacabana,” a 1985 TV movie for CBS based on the characters of Barry Manilow’s 1978 song.
“An Exaltation of Larks,” his classic nonfiction book of group terms and collectives, has been in print since its publication in 1968. In 2007, he published his memoir, “Inside ‘Inside,’” which served as an account of his experiences as the founding dean and Bravo series host.
He made his onstage Broadway debut at the Coronet Theatre in 1951 in the play “The Autumn Garden.” He then wrote the book and lyrics for the musicals “Nowhere to Go but Up” (1962) and “Sherry!” (1967), and also produced the play “The Mighty Gents” (1978) and the comedy special “Monteith & Rand” (1979).
Though the majority of his numerous credits lie in television and theater, his first onscreen film credit came in 1953 with Joseph Strick’s crime drama, aptly titled “The Big Break.”
Lipton was born in Detroit on Sept. 19, 1926, to Jewish immigrants. His father, Lawrence Lipton, was a journalist and Beat poet but abandoned the family when Lipton was 6. He was raised by his mother, Betty, a teacher and librarian, and his upbringing was peppered with a newspaper apprenticeship and his decade-plus of studying acting and dance.
He underwent intense performance training under Stella Adler at the Stella Adler Studio for Acting for more than a decade, which inspired him to start the Actors Studio Drama School in 1994.
“I created the school to provide in three years what I studied over 12 years. I could have had four Ph.D.s now if they had given degrees for those subjects,” he said in 2007.
Lipton, who was also an an avid horseman and a pilot, is survived by his wife, Kedakai Turner, a model and real estate broker. He was previously married to Nina Foch.