The dashing American-Indian actor lived in Mumbai and Himalayan hill station of Landour for years. His grandparents migrated to India from Ohio, the United States in November 1916. They settled in Chennai and then moved to Lahore. His father was born in Sialkot, now in Pakistan.
Tom was well-versed in Hindi as he studied in Mussoorie, and was referred as 'Blue-eyed saheb with impeccable Hindi'. He did his schooling from Mussoorie's Woodstock School.
Tom moved to the States at the age of 18 for higher education and studied at Yale for a year. But returned after a year. He then worked as a teacher at St. Thomas School, Jagadhri, in Haryana while he was just 19. He worked here for six months, simultaneously coaching his students in cricket.
While still trying to figure out his profession of choice, Tom experimented a lot and tried doing several jobs which included teaching at Woodstock School, working at a hospital in the US, and finally returning to India before continuing to work at Jagadhri.
Interestingly, it was at Jagadhri that Tom developed a liking for Hindi movies. Rajesh Khanna starrer Aradhana left a deep impact in Tom's mind and he decided to act in films.
Soon, he left for Film and Television Institute of India in Pune, where he studied acting from 1972 to 1974 under Roshan Taneja.
In a 2009 interview, Tom has been quoted as saying, "I still dream of being Rajesh Khanna. For me, in the early 1970s, he was the only hero — romantic to the core, not larger than life, so Indian and real — he was my hero; the reason I came into films and he still is."
He bagged his first film in 1976 titled Charas which was produced and directed by Ramanand Sagar. He played the Chief Customs Officer. After that, he went on to work with the likes of veteran filmmaker Satyajit Ray in Shatranj Ke Khilari. He has a huge impressive filmography to his credit.
Tom was fluent in Hindi and Urdu languages besides English. His way of reading Urdu Shayari was notable. He continued to work simultaneously in television and theatre as well.
Some of his best works include Kranti, Sardar, One Night with the King, Adajya, an Assamese film, Gandhi, Ram Teri Ganga Maili, Karma, Parinda, Aashiqui, Bheja Fry etc.
His work in television is equally noteworthy such as Shaktimaan, Zabaan Sambhalke, Hatim, Yahan Ke Hum Sikandar etc.
He even left a great impact on Indian theatre circles. He formed the Motley Productions along with Naseeruddin Shah and Benjamin Gilani in 1977. Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot was staged at Prithvi Theatre, Mumbai, on 29 July 1979 and it was their first production.
He played the Mirza Ghalib in the play Ghalib In Delhi. He was honoured with the Padma Shri by the Indian government in 2008.
Tom was a multi-faceted personality who loved sports as well. He was into sports journalism with a keen interest in cricket. He wrote books including The Longest Race, Rerun at Rialto, and The Best in the World. He wrote about cricket for several publications such as Sportsweek, Outlook, Cricket Talk, Sunday Observer and Debonair.
In 1996, he was invited by friend Siraj Syed to Singapore, to do cricket commentary in Hindi on ESPN.
Tom Alter has left behind a legacy rich in art and fine craft. The void created by his demise can never be fulfilled.