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James Lipton, the award-winning host of Inside the Actors Studio, has died at the age of 93. The Renaissance man, best known for his ability to chat with celebrities and A-listers on the long-running Bravo series, passed away from bladder cancer on Monday, March 2 at his home, his wife, Kedakai Mercedes Lipton, confirmed to The New York Times.
She added in a statement to TMZ: "There are so many James Lipton stories but I’m sure he would like to be remembered as someone who loved what he did and had tremendous respect for all the people he worked with."
Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen host Andy Cohen also remembered Lipton on Twitter: "[James Lipton] was a warm, meticulous man with a great appreciation of the arts and wicked sense of humor. He was the face of Bravo who delivered us one-of-a-kind interviews with a breadth of superstars. He was always so kind to me... when he found out how much I love Diana Ross, he insisted on taking me to see her in concert. He really cared about what he did. If you got booked on his show, it meant you’d made it, and had the talent to back it up. What a good guy. James Lipton will be missed."
Frances Berwick, President NBCU Lifestyle Networks, said in a statement to The Daily Dish: "James Lipton was a titan of the film and entertainment industry and had a profound influence on so many. I had the pleasure of working with Jim for 20 years on Bravo's first original series, his pride and joy ‘Inside the Actors Studio.’ We all enjoyed and respected his fierce passion, contributions to the craft, comprehensive research and his ability to bring the most intimate interviews ever conducted with A-list actors across generations. Bravo and NBCUniversal send our deepest condolences to Jim's wife Kedakai and all of his family."
Lipton was born in Detroit in 1926, and even in his youth he was pursuing a career in the arts and media, working odd jobs as a newspaper copy boy for The Detroit Times, as well as an actor in the Catholic Theater of Detroit. He later briefly attended Wayne State University and enlisted in the United States Air Force.
Lipton also studied his craft with several prestigious acting coaches, including Stella Adler, Harold Clurman, and Robert Lewis. He also studied voice and dance, and choreographed for the American Ballet Theatre.
Many years before he found himself on Inside the Actors Studio, Lipton had a colorful career in the entertainment business that included writing for soap operas like Another World and Guiding Light (he acted on the latter series for a decade), as well as appearing as the Lone Ranger's nephew, Dan Reid, on WXYZ Radio's The Lone Ranger program.
He has appeared on and composed for Broadway, and acted in films including 1953's The Big Break and the 2005 film version of Bewitched, as well as animated movies Bolt and Igor. His other acting credits, either as himself or a character, are numerous: He appeared on Suburgatory, Glee, Saturday Night Live, Arrested Development, The Simpsons, and Family Guy, among others.
He has also written several books, An Exaltation of Larks (1968), Mirrors (1983, which was later made into a TV movie), and Inside Inside (2007). Lipton served as producer on a number of other projects, including 12 Bob Hope Birthday Specials.
Lipton's career, as he was open about, once also involved a stint working in a bordello in Paris.
"I wanted to stay in Paris. I was going through my rites de passage, but I had no money. I couldn't work, couldn't get a green card. Not in those days. Nobody could get a green card," he shared on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen in 2016. "I did it because I wanted to live in Paris, and it was the only way I could. And I must say it was a very different world, very, very different."
However, Lipton is probably best known as the host of Inside the Actors Studio, which launched in 1994 as a televised seminar on the craft of acting for students of Actors Studio Drama School, a collaboration between the Actors Studio and New School University.
Later, it moved to Pace University's Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts for Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University students. Lipton served as an executive producer and creator on the series. He served as dean emeritus of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University.
More than 250 actors and artists have appeared on the program, and every episode not only highlighted the illustrious careers of the guests, but was also a deeply personal chat about their lives, their inspirations, and their motivations, which would always culminate in Lipton famously giving guests a questionnaire inspired by Bernard Pivot and Proust, which covered a myriad of topics, including, "What is your favorite curse word?" and "If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?"
When he answered the question, "What turns you on?" in an interview with the Big Think in 2012, his answer was simple: "Words. Not mine, other people's. Words. Words. Words. That's what turns me on."
Paul Newman was the first guest on Inside the Actors Studio when it kicked off in June 1994. In the nearly 25 years since, everyone who's anyone has sat down with Lipton: Alec Baldwin, Faye Dunaway, Matthew Broderick, Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, Scarlett Johansson, Johnny Depp, Julianne Moore, Drew Barrymore, Tom Cruise, and many more have opened up to the beloved TV host about their lives and careers. Ted Danson appeared as the last guest in January 2018.
In 2016, when he was asked on WWHL who his favorite guest was, he revealed: "I've had hundreds and hundreds of guests and I don't want to piss off all the rest of them by naming one. So I'm gonna decline to answer that question. Besides, how would you choose between Barbra Streisand and Steven Spielberg and Robert Redford, etc. etc? The point is that each one of them is unique."
And while Will Ferrell never appeared on Inside the Actors Studio, his SNL impression of Lipton became as iconic and legendary as Lipton himself. The Inside the Actors Studio host opened up about it during that 2016 WWHL appearance, below.
Welcoming former student Bradley Cooper back to the Actors Studio for an episode in 2011 was a proud moment for Lipton, as he shared with Larry King in 2017. "The one person I wanted the most when I was asked, the answer was always the same. I was dean for 10 years at the Actors Studio Drama School and I have answered, 'The night that one of my students has achieved so much that he or she comes back and sits down in that chair next to me will be the night I've waited for since we started this thing 23 years ago.’ And it turned out to be Bradley Cooper."
Inside the Actors Studio has been nominated for more than a dozen Emmy Awards, taking home the trophy in 2013. Lipton won for Best Reality Show Host at the 2016 Critics' Choice Television Awards. In 2007, he was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmy Awards.
Lipton is survived by his wife Kedakai Mercedes Lipton, whom he married in 1970.
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