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Inside The Actors Studio host James Lipton dies aged 93

James Lipton has died aged 93 (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)
James Lipton has died aged 93 (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

James Lipton, who got Hollywood greats to open up about their lives and art on his television show Inside The Actors Studio, has died aged 93.

Actor-turned-drama-school-head Lipton died of bladder cancer at his New York home, his wife, Kedakai Lipton, told The Associated Press.

Lipton began his show in 1994 that also served as a class for his students at the Actors Studio Drama School, where he was then dean.

Lipton and his wife Kedakai
Lipton and his wife Kedakai (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

He often said his only requirement for a guest was whether they had something to teach his students. His first guest, Paul Newman, set a standard of stardom for those that would follow, including Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Glenn Close, Steven Spielberg and Barbra Streisand.

“Rest in peace, James Lipton. He was interested in the actor’s process, which was so refreshing,” Streisand said in a Twitter post.

Lipton was known, and often parodied, for his highbrow and sometimes worshipful tone with his subjects, and for his intensive preparation, represented by a pile of blue note cards that held his meticulously researched questions. When Will Ferrell played Lipton on Saturday Night Live, the pile of cards was nearly a foot thick.

Many otherwise media-shy actors were willing to appear on Inside The Actors Studio because Lipton focused on their craft and not the usual celebrity chatter or project promotion.

“People do not come on to sell a movie and you never hear the words, ‘I’m opening in Vegas in two weeks,’” Lipton told the AP in a 1996 interview. “That’s what most talk shows depend upon, and that’s fine, but with us we’re getting together to dig as deep as we can.”

He was not afraid to get personal, however, and his stunned interviewees often asked “How did you know that?” when he asked about something from their childhood or private life.

Julia Roberts asked Lipton if he had talked to her mother after one set of questions, and Sally Field in her first season appearance asked, “Have you been reading my diary? Talking to my shrink?”

“Obviously we deal in lots of anecdotes, and even some gossip and secrets,” Lipton told the AP, “but they’re tied together by a concern for and devotion to craft.”

He ended every interview with a set of soul-searching questions he derived from French television host Bernard Pivot, including, “What is your favourite curse word?” and “If God exists, what would you like to hear him say after your death?”

Lipton’s own childhood was made financially perilous by the divorce of his parents, poet and journalist Lawrence Lipton and teacher Betty Weinberg.

“I always had to work, from the age of 13. When my father left, we had nothing,” he told Parade magazine in 2013. While he dabbled in acting as a youngster, he intended to pursue law to avoid the instability he had experienced as a youngster.

He ultimately turned back to his original passion, the arts, but with an unusual detour. He worked as a pimp for a year in Paris after the Second World War, Lipton told Parade. He was broke and planning to leave the city when a prostitute he knew suggested he represent her and others.

“It was only a few years after the war. Paris was different then, still poor. Men couldn’t get jobs and, in the male chauvinist Paris of that time, the women couldn’t get work at all. It was perfectly respectable for them” to work at one of city’s bordellos, Lipton said.

Back home in the US, he studied acting with famed teacher Stella Adler as well as production and directing at New York University and the New School. His 1950s stage and screen credits included The Autumn Garden on Broadway and a stint as actor and then writer on the TV soap opera The Guiding Light. Lipton wrote the book and the lyrics for two Broadway musicals, Nowhere To Go But Up and Sherry!.

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