The Untold Truth Of James Lipton

James Lipton, the longtime host of the wildly popular Bravo series, Inside the Actors Studiodied on March 2, 2020, after a battle with bladder cancer, TMZ reports. He was 93.

According to Lipton's wife, Kedakai Turner, the dean emeritus of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University passed away peacefully at this home in New York City. "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," she told the publication. His wife also released in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, "He lived each day as if it were his last. His work was his passion, loved what he did and all the people he worked with. He empowered people to do their best, and hopefully, his spirit, curiosity, and passion will live on." 

Indeed, the beloved theater academic and TV star had sat down with hundreds of award-winning actors, who shared the secrets of the craft to audiences, between 1994 and his retirement in 2018. But what else do we know about the host with the iconic and eloquent voice (that Will Ferrell famously spoofed on Saturday Night Live)? Let's sit down and find out the untold truth of James Lipton.

You'll never guess James Lipton's early Parisian career

There's no way to break this gently: James Lipton used to be pimp ... and we don't mean in the figurative sense. During a 2013 interview with Parade, Lipton confirmed that he ran a "roaring" bordello in Paris "a few years after" WWII. "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," he said. "It was perfectly respectable for them to go into le milieu." Lipton went on to say, "There was no opprobrium because it was completely regulated. Every week they had to be inspected medically." 

So, how did Lipton get involved? Noting that he didn't exploit any of the sex workers, but only "took a cut" acting as their agent, he added that he'd entered the business after developing a friendship with one of the women. "We became great friends. When I ran out of money, I said, 'I have to go home.' She said, 'No, you don't. I'll arrange for you.' So she arranged for me to do it," Lipton said. "I had to be okayed by the underworld; otherwise they would've found me floating in the Seine."

James Lipton gave us wings

Not only did James Lipton boast unmatched skills as an interviewer, he was also an accomplished pilot who earned his wings in 1980. Speaking with The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) in 2013, he revealed that he'd "always wanted to fly" and ended up joining the military to become a pilot, before ultimately leaving service in a post-war world and studying law.

Unable to knock his passion for aviation, Lipton enrolled in flight school at East Hampton Airport years later, where he earned his AOPA lapel pin by "training primarily in a Cessna 152 and 172," per the AOPA. In over three decades of recreational flying, Lipton logged "1,000-plus hours" — but the journey wasn't always smooth sailing. During the interview, Lipton recounted a memorable 1956 flight over Alaska's mountainous Iditarod Trail in the middle of a snowstorm, when the engine temporarily cut out. Per the outlet, the longtime pilot proceeded to "put the airplane in a steep slip" to unblock and restart the engine. In his own words, "No airplane engine has ever sounded louder — or more beautiful."

However, sometimes his love for aviation got in the way of his discussions on Inside the Actors Studio. "We get anyone on the show who's a pilot, we bore people with it," Lipton quipped, before name-dropping the likes of Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Angelina Jolie, and John Travolta. "Once I get them up on the stage, we just forget about the audience and talk about airplanes."

The interview that made James Lipton 'burst into tears'

During a 1999 episode of Inside the Actors Studio, a young second-year actor of the studio asked Oscar-winning guest Sean Penn about revisiting a character he'd played before in the stage and film versions of Hurly Burly. That actor? A Star Is Born's star and director Bradley Cooper. In a true full circle moment, Cooper returned to Inside the Actors Studio as an interviewee and a bonafide star twelve years later. He teared up multiple times during the interview, telling the audience (via The Washington Post), "I'm a loud crier. I'm not like a sobber ... I'm like a — it's ugly, so I apologize."

Cooper's triumphant — and emotional — return also happened to be James Lipton's proudest (and equally emotional) moment. "What I've waited for is that one of my graduated students has achieved so much that he walks out and sits down on that chair next to me," he told Parade in 2013. "It happened when Bradley Cooper walked out on that stage. We looked at each other and burst into tears. It was one of the greatest nights of my life."

His absentee father informed his career choice

"My parents broke up when I was 6," James Lipton told the Philadelphia Inquirer back in 2002. His father, beat poet and author Lawrence Lipton, had abandoned the family, as his son explained: "I saw him when I was 12 and again when I was 20." However, Lipton's father's absence didn't just cause psychological wounds — it caused economic problems, as well, for a young Lipton growing up in a poor section of Detroit. 

Speaking with Parade, the Inside the Actors Studio interviewer revealed that he got his first job at the age of 13, because he and his mother, teacher and librarian Betty Weinberg, "had nothing." And so after his stint in the Air Force, Lipton decided to distance himself from his absentee dad even further by choosing a career path that wouldn't be beat poet-approved: "I was going to be a lawyer because that was as far away from my father's lunacy that I could imagine. He was nuts. He abandoned us. I was afraid of being like that."

However, little did he know, his plan to be a lawyer would lead him to his first love. "I thought, 'I'd better take some acting classes if I'm going to earn a living so I can be a lawyer,'" Lipton explained. "Stella Adler accepted me for her [drama] class. About five years later, I said to myself, 'Stop kidding. You don't want to be a lawyer. This is what you want to do.'"

Marlon Brando gave James Lipton second thoughts

Stella Adler's classes paid off for James Lipton, landing him roles in Broadway productions and on the soap opera, Guiding Light, in 1952 (via the Philadelphia Inquirer). But a single trip to the movies one fateful day made the young actor reevaluate his silver screen dreams: "I saw Marlon [Brando] in the movies, and I knew I couldn't do that."

Following a brief 47-year hiatus, Lipton returned to acting with guest appearances on several television shows, including According to Jim and Arrested Development. He also wrote three television movies in the '80s and produced several Bob Hope specials. And in a full-circle moment, Lipton sought to get Marlon Brando to sit down with him on Inside the Actors Studio, but the legendary actor refused. "He was reclusive in the last years of his life," Lipton explained to Parade. "He said, 'I'm never going to do your show. The [Actors] Studio's always taking credit for me. I was trained by Stella Adler.' I said, 'So was I. Come on. We'll talk about Stella.'" Still, as Lipton noted, "I've had a pretty good roster of guests without Marlon."

James Lipton and the worst of everything?

When you think of daytime soap operas, you think of such long-running classics like The Bold and the BeautifulThe Young and the Restless, and General Hospital. Even if you don't partake in the soaps circuit, you could probably rattle off those titles, if asked. But we can almost guarantee you'd never guess the former ABC soap, The Best of Everything. That's because, according to TV Insider, the 1970 series about "four young secretaries working at a bustling publishing firm" and starring screen legend Joan Crawford only lasted six months. 

We can't say that James Lipton was responsible for the series' failure, but he did serve as the head writer and even co-wrote the theme song! That said, per We Love Soaps, Lipton's short-lived foray into daytime soaps might have been less of an issue of quality and more a problem of unfortunate timing. "In the first four years of the 1970s there was a brutal daytime soap opera massacre," the site reads, listing off six soaps (including The Best of Everything) that were all canceled between "March 1973 to February 1974."

What was James Lipton's net worth?

As previously mentioned, James Lipton grew up poor. "When your father's a poet and your mother's a teacher, there's not much money, not much food in the larder," the famed interviewer told Playbill in 2004. "I became an amateur actor at 13 in Catholic theatre in Detroit. When I came to New York, I acted to support myself and my mother, who was then retired."

However, by the time of his death in March 2020, the Inside the Actors Studio star didn't need to worry about having enough food. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Lipton left behind a reported fortune of $6 million. Since the multi-hyphenate had no children, we can assume his wife of over 40 years, Kedakai Turner Lipton, would inherit his estate. 

"We met at the ballet. I took one look at her and I fell madly in love," Lipton revealed to Parade in 2013. "I called her the next day and asked her to have dinner with me. Nine months later we were married." When asked how his happy marriage had lasted so long, Lipton replied, "Because Kedakai is a masterpiece."