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Tom Sizemore, 'Saving Private Ryan' actor, has died at 61

Actor Tom Sizemore arrives at the Paramount Vantage premiere of "Babel" on Nov. 5, 2006 in Westwood, California.
Frazer Harrison
Getty Images
Actor Tom Sizemore arrives at the Paramount Vantage premiere of "Babel" on Nov. 5, 2006 in Westwood, California.

Updated March 3, 2023 at 11:58 PM ET

Tom Sizemore brought magnetic intensity to many of the tough guy roles he played early in his career. Gruff and green-eyed, Sizemore appeared in numerous films now considered classics, perhaps most famously 1998's Saving Private Ryan. But the actor's struggles with addiction and legal problems would eclipse his talent and career.

On Feb. 18, Sizemore was hospitalized and placed in critical condition after suffering a brain aneurysm. Sizemore had remained in a coma until his death on Friday. The actor was 61 years old.

"I am very saddened by the loss of not only a client but a great friend and mentor of almost 15 years," Sizemore's manager Charles Lago said in a statement. "Tom was one of the most sincere, kind and generous human beings I have had the pleasure of knowing. His courage and determination through adversity was always an inspiration to me. The past couple of years were great for him and he was getting his life back to a great place. He loved his sons and his family. I will miss my friend Tom Sizemore greatly."

Born in Detroit, Sizemore grew up watching movies with his mother. He became fascinated with Robert De Niro's performance in Taxi Driver, as he told the website Decider in 2022.

"I saw that movie every week for, like, two months when it was playing in the theater," he said. "I saw it 11 weeks in a row. That's when I first started thinking, 'Whatever that is they're doing up there, I want to be part of it. I want to do that.' And I started to figure out how to become an actor."

Sizemore studied theater at Wayne State University and Temple University. After a period of waiting tables in New York City while trying to carve out a career, he started getting cast in an impressive streak of celebrated films.

Starting in 1989, Sizemore appeared in small roles in Born on the Fourth of July, directed by Oliver Stone, then two early movies by Kathryn Bigelow, Point Break and Blue Steel. Slowly, Sizemore worked his way into increasingly larger roles in Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, Passenger 57, True Romance and Natural Born Killers.

He replaced Harvey Keitel in Devil in a Blue Dressand backed up his hero Robert De Niro as part of a criminal gang in Heat. Then, in Saving Private Ryan, Sizemore delivered the line that helps convince his group of fellow traumatized Army soldiers that searching for their lost comrade might be the one decent thing they do during the ugliness of World War II.

But Sizemore's life went off the rails after appearing in a few more massive Hollywood war films, including Black Hawk Down and Pearl Harbor. He was convicted of assaulting his then-fiancée Heidi Fleiss, who had been known as the "Hollywood Madam," in 2003. He was arrested multiple times for driving under the influence, possessing drugs and for domestic violence. And he allegedly behaved inappropriately with an 11-year-old girl on a film set, according to some cast and crew members, although the claim was dismissed in 2020.

Sizemore managed to keep working. He starred in the lowest-grossing movie of 2006. And repeatedly, he tried to get clean. When Sizemore appeared on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew in 2010, he said it was his ninth stint in treatment and described his periods of sobriety as the happiest in his life.

By 2016, Sizemore was slowly working his way back into respectability, appearing as a guest in popular TV and streaming shows such as Lucifer, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the Twin Peaks reboot and Cobra Kai.

"I'm a pitcher, an older pitcher now, and I used to throw 98 mph and I still throw 98 mph when I'm acting," he told the Daily Mail the following year.

Sizemore's brother Paul and his twin sons Jayden and Jagger, 17, were at his side when he died, according to his manager.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Neda Ulaby
Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.