He created one of
the biggest hits in musical history, but it took a game show
to make him
famous. Now Richard OBrien is going back to his roots
with the release of a jazz album and theres a new
stage show in the pipeline.
KYLIE NORTHOVER met
the man who created Rocky Horror. (Photos: Paul Kennedy)
created one of the biggest cult phenomenons of the 1970s, yet
for many years his face remained stubbornly unfamiliar. But
the man behind The Rocky Horror Show arguably the most
popular musical in modern history owned the stage rights
to the show, which still plays around the world 25 years after
its conception. So he didnt mind the anonymity
in fact, he enjoyed it.
But after fronting
the top-rating Channel Four game show The Crystal Maze, he became
a celebrity, despite the fact that he had previously appeared
in countless stage shows, penned some of the most instantly
recognisable songs of the century and played Riff Raff, one
of Rocky Horrors central characters, on stage and screen.
Maze was a road I never thought Id be walking down,
says Richard. It raised the OBrien profile, which
was kind of good for a while, although I did miss the anonymity.
I considered myself very lucky I had success in film
and theatre in Britain, but people wouldnt know who I
was in the street. Anonymity was very nice.
The downside was
that I used to get a lot of people making kissy-kissy
noises at me. Then, after Crystal Maze, the same people who
used to make these mocking noises would be calling out ello
Richard, love yer show! It was quite strange all
of a sudden I could walk down the street in a frock at night
if I wanted to.
be out of the question for the extravagant OBrien. All
the more strange, then, that it took a game show for him to
achieve celebrity status. Even after the film version of Rocky
attracted audience-participation fanatics to scream at the screen,
he was rarely recognised in the street.
used to think Id have to wear my name across my front.
The first time I ever came across the film fans was around 1978,
in Miami. We went to see a performance with all the fans doing
their stuff in front of the screen. When they were packing away
I went up and said very good, very enjoyable.
They just sort of
tittered a bit. After a while one of them said Whats
your name? I told them I was Richard OBrien and
it was like Oh my Gawd! Twenty-five years
after Rocky first hit the stage, it is still going strong. Yet
Richard never imagined it would be so enduring.
I was just
treating it like another job. I honestly believed that by the
time the initial six-week run finished we would have exhausted
it. We were playing in a tiny fringe theatre that seated 62
people, he says.
But word got
out that something was happening. If theyd said go
and write your own review, we couldnt have bettered
them. Every mans fantasy and most womens as
well was an interesting concept. The thing that astounded
all of us was that it wasnt just a camp, gay audience.
It was very much heterosexually driven women were finding
Tim Curry a bit of a turn on in stockings and fishnets.
Word of mouth
got round and it became a very groovy thing to see. We had all
sorts coming to see it during that first run. On the last night
we had Elliot Gould and Mick Jagger standing on the stairs.
Surely a bit of a
thrill for an up-and-coming actor/songwriter? Elliot Gould,
yes. But Im afraid Im not very fond of Mr Jagger
he wanted to buy the film rights so he could play Frank,
but wed all seen Ned Kelly by then, he says with
Before Rocky and
worldwide success, Richard had performed in various musicals
including Gullivers Travels (1968), Hair (1970/71) and
Jesus Christ Superstar (1972) and acted in several fringe theatre
Fast forward to the
90s and the charismatic actor has decided to go back to
his musical roots with Absolute OBrien, a jazz album to
be released on Valentines Day (on Medical Records).
new departure for me, going down this mellow kind of road, because
Ive always been very rocknroll. And
thats not all hes been since leaving high
school, Richard has had all sorts of jobs. Although he was born
in Gloucestershire, his family moved to New Zealand when he
was ten years old to take up sheep farming in rural Tauranga.
He always loved rock
music and films, but the thought of entering the entertainment
world hadnt entered his head when he left school at 15
to study a three-year dairy farming course.
I was without
direction, he says. Before he eventually decided to head
back to Blighty and the swinging sixties he had
stints as a barber and a trainee glazier, but these jobs failed
to inspire him.
Looking back, though,
he appreciates his adolescence.
in New Zealand was excellent because Britain, until very recently,
was a class-ridden society. To some extent, it still is. Being
brought up in New Zealand a classless society
was such a strength.
to the class structure when I came back to England was a blessing
I wasnt going to allow anybody the idea that they
were somehow socially superior to me. I ignored those affectations.
In London, he started
exploiting his experience as a horse rider, landing a job as
a stunt rider, and it was here that he realised he wanted to
be an actor. Supplementing his income with jobs as a dustman
and truck driver, Richard began his career in fringe theatre.
The great thing
about the 60s was that you didnt have to go to RADA
to get anywhere, he says. Starting out as an understudy
and eventually landing his own roles in musicals, Richard was
also a budding songwriter and Rocky eventually evolved in the
early 1970s from a batch of songs hed written over the
years but had never used.
Having been a singer,
actor and game show host, Richard is now back where he started,
enjoying his songwriting. I like this little musical journey
and I want to do more of it, he says. The songs from his
new album were written for a short-lived one man show, Disgracefully
Yours, which Richard wrote and performed a couple of years ago.
I played the
demon Mephistopheles and the premise was basically me saying
well, weve got to a point in Hell where were
not going to take Heavens rejects anymore we dont
want those arseholes, the sickos and the weirdos. We just want
nice groovy people who are going to party on forever. Im
here today to tell you to make your decision you can
choose to be up there and be bored to tears, or you can come
and party with us. That was the premise and I spent an
hour or two on stage cracking jokes and singing songs, wearing
hooves for the whole show, which really took its toll.
But Richard loved the shows smooth jazz tunes and so his
new album was born.
I did enjoy
being on stage with a live band, it was lots of fun. It was
nice to hear laughter coming
back over the footlights. But Ive got no idea how
the album will be received. Its the kind of album that
people might hear at a dinner party, ask what it is and then
go and buy it, as opposed to rushing out to the stores,
I think it
will have quite a long life its not locked into
whats hot at the moment. Im a big fan of Chet Baker
and Willie Nelson and I think the album is somehow between those
two. Its a very sexy album. I like to describe it
as so cool youll want to take a warm bath with a friend.
But while Richard may seem to be chilling out these days, his
fans neednt worry hes still the same old
flamboyant character who conceived the likes of FranknFurter.
Last year he appeared
as the nasty Mr Hand in the sci-fi/horror film Dark City, so
hes still got his dark streak (although he also had a
small role in the recent Spice Girls film). And theres
another musical on the way.
Alive On Arrival. Its about a girl who goes to the Land
of the Dead shes still alive and she scares
the shit out of them. Its like a zombie being among the
living. The big question down there is is there life before
death? Its quite an interesting premise, another
dark fairy tale, he says.
I love working
in fantasy. I dont want to play bank managers or real
people too boring!