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With an early career overshadowed by his marriage to larger-than-life comedienne Rosanne Barr, and a performance delivery akin to a highly caffeinated 14-year-old kid with self-esteem issues, by most accounts Tom Arnold should have faded from public view shortly after the notorious couple's bitter divorce. And yet, the comic actor persevered, working steadily in both film and on television as actor, comedian and media personality. Prior to being thrust into the limelight by Barr, no one had ever heard of Tom Arnold. However, by 1990 he was writing, producing and acting on her iconic sitcom, "Rosanne" (ABC, 1988-1997). Their marriage often played out like a train wreck for a salivating tabloid media. After their acrimonious divorce, Arnold was given a gift from director James Cameron, by being cast alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in the hugely successful action comedy "True Lies" (1994). Suddenly, people were taking Arnold seriously as a comedic performer. What followed was a series of questionable movies such as "The Stupids" (1996) and failed TV sitcoms like "The Tom Show" (The WB, 1997-98). Eventually Arnold would settle into a career as a supporting player in smaller film roles, television series,...
With an early career overshadowed by his marriage to larger-than-life comedienne Rosanne Barr, and a performance delivery akin to a highly caffeinated 14-year-old kid with self-esteem issues, by most accounts Tom Arnold should have faded from public view shortly after the notorious couple's bitter divorce. And yet, the comic actor persevered, working steadily in both film and on television as actor, comedian and media personality. Prior to being thrust into the limelight by Barr, no one had ever heard of Tom Arnold. However, by 1990 he was writing, producing and acting on her iconic sitcom, "Rosanne" (ABC, 1988-1997). Their marriage often played out like a train wreck for a salivating tabloid media. After their acrimonious divorce, Arnold was given a gift from director James Cameron, by being cast alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in the hugely successful action comedy "True Lies" (1994). Suddenly, people were taking Arnold seriously as a comedic performer. What followed was a series of questionable movies such as "The Stupids" (1996) and failed TV sitcoms like "The Tom Show" (The WB, 1997-98). Eventually Arnold would settle into a career as a supporting player in smaller film roles, television series, and talk shows. Upon occasion, Arnold would be given the opportunity to prove that there was more to him than his nervous, crass personae, surprising critics with strong performances in smaller films like "Happy Endings" (2005). Although no longer starring in his own series or taking the lead in mainstream features, all things considered, it had worked out all right for Arnold. As he once said, "It's a pretty nice life, if you like being a punch line."
Born Thomas Duane Arnold on March 6, 1959 to parents Jack and Linda, Arnold was born in the working class town of Ottumwa, IA, one of seven children. He graduated from Ottumwa High School before landing a job at the local Hormel meat packing plant for a number of years. After scoring big laughs from his coworkers when he placed a pig scalp on his work helmet, Arnold had an epiphany of sorts. He decided at that moment to become a comedian and performer. This led to a stint at Ottumwa's Indian Hills Community College, and later, the University of Iowa, where Arnold first tried his hand at stand-up comedy at the school's student union. Shortly thereafter, Arnold moved to Minneapolis, MN where he performed an act called "Tom Arnold and the Fabulous Goldfish Review" at the local comedy clubs. It was around this time that he had a fateful meeting with up-and-coming comedienne Rosanne Barr in 1983. Arnold and Barr struck up a professional friendship that led to his touring with her in the mid-1980s, and an appearance on her comedy special "The Rosanne Barr Show" (HBO, 1987). After placing first in the Minneapolis Comedy Competition in 1988, Arnold followed Barr out to Los Angeles to join the writing staff on her groundbreaking family sitcom "Rosanne" (ABC, 1988-1997). In a very short time, their professional relationship would turn very personal - not to mention sensational.
By 1990 much had changed for show business neophyte Tom Arnold. It began when Bill Pentland, Barr's then-husband and producer on "Rosanne," was fired and Barr filed for divorce. In February of that year, Arnold and Barr were married, and he quickly moved from show writer to producer, as well as taking on a recurring role on the series as an obnoxious neighbor, Arnie Thomas. Not surprisingly, Arnold was dismissed in many quarters as a blatant opportunist of dubious talent who hit the jackpot by marrying above his station. In their public personas, the Arnolds could be seen as a twisted version of George Burns and Gracie Allen, appearing across the country on a 25-city "Honeymoon Tour" where their errant comedy and revealing candidness either repulsed or captivated audiences. Arnold once described himself and Roseanne as "America's worst nightmare - white trash with money." Meanwhile, Arnold started to branch out on his own, starring on the short-lived sitcom, "The Jackie Thomas Show" (ABC, 1992-93). The Arnolds used their considerable leverage to have the series scheduled after "Rosanne." A workmanlike sitcom about an overbearing TV personality - not exactly a stretch for its star - the show started out as a modest ratings success, but suffered a sharp falloff in viewership, prompting the network to quickly pull the plug. In the meantime, Arnold kept busy producing, co-writing and occasionally directing various projects involving his wife under the Wappello County Productions banner.
The couple's honeymoon could not last, what with their professional decisions, publicity stunts, and personal lives taking increasingly erratic, even bizarre, turns. There was the Annie Leibovitz photo spread in Vanity Fair showing the couple mud wrestling on the beach in Malibu, and the 1992 Spy magazine cover with Arnold and Barr in gorilla suits, citing them as proof of "human devolution." The Arnolds were already a weekly tabloid staple when it all came crashing down in 1994. Shortly after announcing a three-way marriage with their assistant, Kim Silva, Arnold and Barr were involved in a knock-down, drag-out fight over Arnold's relationship with Silva crossing the line, as far as Barr was concerned. It came to a head with Arnold being fired from Barr's show, kicked out of their home, and ultimately divorced by the self-described "Domestic Goddess." Adding insult to injury, Arnold's second run at his own sitcom, "Tom" (CBS, 1993-94), barely lasted a single season. Many were prepared to write Arnold off entirely after his highly publicized breakup with his formidable spouse, but it was another Arnold who came to the battered comedian's rescue later that same year.
Arnold surprised everyone with an outstanding comedic performance as Arnold Schwarzenegger's schlubby sidekick in James Cameron's lavish James Bond homage "True Lies" (1994). Suddenly Arnold was deemed likable, his timing was assured, and many predicted a successful career in features, such as the Hugh Grant romantic comedy "Nine Months" (1995), in which Arnold had another substantial supporting role. He did not, however, fare so well in his subsequent vehicles. Critics panned such misguided efforts as the aptly titled "The Stupids" (1996) and the pointless movie adaptation of the classic Ernest Borgnine comedy series "McHale's Navy" (1997) - opinions underscored by the ensuing box office results. Arnold would make a brief, hilarious cameo in another Bond inspired comedy, Mike Myers' spy spoof "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" (1997), but it was hardly representative of his résumé as a whole. Hoping that the third time would be a charm, Arnold took one more swing at headlining his own series with the cleverly titled family comedy "The Tom Show" (The WB, 1997-98). It fared no better than his features, however, and was unceremoniously cancelled after one season. Arnold rarely headlined films after these debacles, but he continued to be cast in several middling successes over the next several years, including the urban crime dramas "Exit Wounds" (2001) and "Cradle 2 the Grave" (2003), as well as the Snoop Dogg airline comedy "Soul Plane' (2004) being among the most notable.
Arnold also remained a viable personality on television, largely appearing as himself on dozens of series, specials and talk shows. He may have reached a low ebb when he co-hosted the ill-fated pilot "The New Gong Show" in 2001, but he found a successful niche as one of the regular host/commentators on Fox Sports' popular series "The Best Damn Sports Show, Period" (2001-09), a comedic variation on "Sportscenter." Just as it seemed Arnold was destined to be a semi-charming TV personality playing himself - something he also did in the feature comedies "Dickie Roberts" (2003), starring David Spade, and the Bernie Mac vehicle "Mr. 3000" (2004) - he surprised his critics by proving himself a capable actor when he appeared in writer-director Don Roos' seriocomic, multistory "Happy Endings" (2005). In a part written expressly for him, Arnold played a wealthy widower who worries about his son's sexual orientation only to be relieved when the secretly gay teen (Jason Ritter) brings home an apparent girlfriend (Maggie Gyllenhaal), only for Arnold to find himself falling for her. After appearing in supporting roles in two feature comedy flops - "Rebound" (2005), starring Martin Lawrence, and the teen sex comedy "National Lampoon's Barely Legal" (2005) - Arnold returned to more dramatic material in "The Kid & I" (2005), playing a down-and-out actor unexpectedly hired to write the sequel to the hit action film that made him famous more than 10 years prior. Written and directed by Arnold, the film was a deeply personal project, unabashedly referencing his decade-old career high in "True Lies."
Arnold resurfaced with an appearance in the high school football drama "The Final Season" (2007), and reteamed with "Happy Endings" co-star Jason Ritter for the overlooked indie-film "Good Dick" (2008), about a lonely video store clerk who becomes enthralled by a troubled, anti-social female customer. "Gardens of the Night" (2008) provided Arnold with not only his most dramatic and unsympathetic role thus far, but also prompted the actor to publicly reveal a long-kept dark secret. In the film, Arnold portrayed Alex, a pedophile who abducts a young girl. In reality - according to Arnold - he himself had been the victim of sexual abuse by an older man as a young boy. Arnold popped up next alongside Tim Daly in the barely released supernatural thriller "The Skeptic" (2009), in addition to appearing in two episodes of the biker gang basic cable drama "Sons of Anarchy" (FX, 2008- ).
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"Create a public image that's basically parasitic, marry the world's most successful and abrasive television star, impose yourself on her show as a writer and producer, get matching tatoos, double moon a World Series crowd, and propose a three-way marriage with Kim Silva, your 24-year-old female assistant. At this point, when your wife files for divorce--twice--the public says YESSS!! You become Letterman fodder, and your own sitcom--your second--does a swan dive. ... By the time your name appears among the credits for your biggest project ever--the Arnold Schwarzenegger-Jamie Lee Curtis blockbuster "True Lies"--the crowd at the screening boos.
"What happens next? You turn out to be really funny. Self-deprecatingly funny. ... Your character, Gig, the very divorced and goofy partner to Schwarzenegger's bottled-in-Bond Harry Trasker, turns out to be a delightful foil. ... Every review mentions your performance, because no one can believe it. Hey, did you see Tom Arnold? Yeah, maybe he's not such a bad guy after all."
--From "Tom Arnold's New Life" by John Anderson in New York Newsday, July 28, 1994.
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