Scotsman Obituaries: Tom Sizemore, troubled actor best known for tough guy roles

Tom Sizemore, actor. Born: 29 November 1961 in Detroit. Died: 3 March 2023 in Burbank, California, aged 61
Tom Sizemore's career was blighted by personal demons  (Picture: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)Tom Sizemore's career was blighted by personal demons  (Picture: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Tom Sizemore's career was blighted by personal demons (Picture: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Tom Sizemore made his name in Hollywood with tough guy gangster and criminal roles, but Steven Spielberg reckoned that his characteristic hard edge would also work perfectly in a rare “goodie” part, that of Tom Hanks’s right-hand man in the 1998 Second World War classic Saving Private Ryan.

There was, however, one major condition – Sizemore would be required to take regular drugs tests, with the threat hanging over him that if he failed his scenes would be reshot with another actor.

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As it turned out Sizemore was great and the film provided him with one of his most memorable roles. But his career was blighted by addiction to heroin and other drugs, both before and after Saving Private Ryan, and by a volatile personality that mirrored that of some of his characters. He wound up in court on domestic abuse charges more than once, brought by some of his many girlfriends and partners.

His friend and mentor Robert De Niro, with whom he appeared in Heat, told him he would die if he did not sort himself out. De Niro forced him into rehab more than once. On one occasion in the late 1990s he turned up at his door along with Sizemore’s mother and offered to drive him either to rehab or to the nearest police station. In the end it was a brain aneurism that killed him.

Sizemore reckoned he spent over $10 million in legal fees across the course of his career. He had several convictions for drugs and domestic abuse, including assaulting his one-time partner Heidi Fleiss, the notorious Hollywood madam. He struggled with notions of law and order throughout his life, describing himself as “a wayward kid” and “a rambunctious and angry teenager”.

He was born Thomas Edward Sizemore in Detroit in 1961, and claimed Native American and African-American ancestry, though he did tend to spin a yarn sometimes. There was a huge hullaballoo when a recording emerged in which he said his ex-girlfriend Elizabeth Hurley had an affair with Bill Clinton. After threats of legal action, he conceded he must have made it up, though he could not remember. He was also forced to admit that his claims to have slept with Paris Hilton were untrue.

Sizemore was not from a disadvantaged or impoverished background. A little ironically perhaps, his father was a lawyer and philosophy lecturer. He also had a brother who was a lawyer.

But he took as his role model not his father, but two uncles who were involved in crime and drugs. His lawyer brother Aaron used the uncles as the basis of a screenplay, which almost got made in the 2010s with Sizemore and Danny Trejo. It was eventually made, under the title Good Thief, with a different cast.

Sizemore had said he was using drugs since the age of 15. He was inspired to pursue a career as an actor after seeing aspects of his own troubled personality in characters played on screen by Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and De Niro, and he had sufficient focus to get theatre degrees from universities in Detroit and Philadelphia.

After theatre work off-off-Broadway, he began getting small roles in movies in the late 1980s, including that of a veteran in Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July and a detective in True Romance, which was written by Quentin Tarantino.

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He got his big break in another Tarantino film, Natural Born Killers, in 1994, playing another detective, as vicious and nasty as the killers he is pursuing.

He was an actor with an immediate screen presence. And after supporting roles in Strange Days, Devil in a Blue Dress and Heat, he got a rare lead role in the 1997 horror movie The Relic. He specialised in villains and tainted cops. But following Saving Private Ryan he was in demand for military roles. He was a sergeant in Pearl Harbor and a colonel in Black Hawk Down.

However, he continued to battle with drugs, women and the law. In 2003 it was alleged that he molested an 11-year-old actress on the set of a low-budget film that was eventually released under the title Born Killers (sic), but prosecutors refused to pursue it and much more recently a civil case for damages was thrown out of court. Sizemore claimed that the whole episode was humiliating and caused him a loss of work.

But his career had already dipped before that. In 2010 he featured in an American reality show called Celebrity Rehab with Dr Drew which reunited him on screen with Heidi Fleiss.

He was briefly married in the 1990s, a union that ended in accusations of abuse and divorce. He is survived by twin sons born from another relationship in 2005.


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