As confirmed by The New York Times, iconic writer, actor, and teacher James Lipton—best known as the creator and longtime host of Inside The Actors Studio—has died. Lipton was also dean emeritus at Pace University’s Actors Studio Drama School in New York City, after having previously introduced the Actors Studio graduate program to New York’s New School. In addition, he had two distinct acting careers, one before transitioning into writing and teaching and one after he had become a pop culture figure due to Inside The Actors Studio. Lipton was 93.
Born in Michigan in 1926, Lipton was the son of teacher Betty Lipton and beat poet Lawrence Lipton—though Lipton’s father left the family when Lipton was just a boy. To help make money, he began working for The Detroit Times as a teenager and attended college for one year before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force in the ’40s. He semi-famously worked as a pimp in Paris in the 1950s, telling Parade that he “represented” a “whole bordello” after befriending a sex worker who told him it would be a good way to make some money and stay in France a little longer.
After World War II, Lipton began studying to become a lawyer, but turned to acting so he could pay for his tuition—though he eventually transitioned into just studying acting. He learned from influential teachers like Stella Adler and Actors Studio co-founder Robert Lewis, later landing a regular role on soap opera Guiding Light. He was also a writer on Guiding Light, as well as Another World, The Edge Of Night, and The Best Of Everything. Around this time he also appeared in Joseph Strick’s crime film The Big Break and in several Broadway plays and musicals. In 1968, Lipton published his first book, An Exaltation Of Larks, followed by the novel Mirrors in 1983.
In 1994, Lipton launched a new program within the Actors Studio as a non-credited class where experienced actors could talk about their craft and answer questions from an audience of acting studios. That program was also aired on television as Inside The Actors Studio, with Lipton hosting the interviews, and it presented an endearingly no-frills way for the general public to gain insight into the work of movie stars, actors, and writers. Lipton also adopted an interview style from a French talk show where he would ask guests the same 10 questions (stuff like “what is your favorite word?” and “what is your favorite curse word?”) along with a recurring segment where he would have the actors become their most iconic characters so he could ask them questions (allowing audiences to discover, say, Homer Simpson’s favorite word).
The show was a big hit, with Lipton interviewing over 300 guests in his 25-year run on the show, including dozens of Oscar winners, and there was a special episode where Dave Chappelle interviewed Lipton himself. In 2018, Lipton stepped down as the host, just as Inside The Actors Studio was leaving its longtime home on the Bravo network for Ovation TV. Lipton was replaced by a rotating group of one-off hosts, including Alec Baldwin (who was the first guest to appear on the show, though his episode didn’t air first).
After becoming a star in his own right from Inside The Actors Studio, Lipton started getting self-referential acting roles where he basically played himself, particularly in a recurring role as prison warden Stefan Gentles on Arrested Development. In his personal life, Lipton had been married to real estate agent Kedakai Turner Lipton since the ’70s, best known to the general public as the model for Miss Scarlett in the Clue board game.