Timothy Smith was born on March 25, 1942 in Cheltenham, England. Born during
the war, he wasn't expected to live through the night. Says Richard in his
own words: "The doctor came by the next morning and said 'Oh, he's still alive,
is he?'" He did indeed survive the night, though he would grow into a slight
frame. At the age of ten, his father packed up the family and moved to Taraunga
New Zealand. Life on the farm, while it may not have been Richard's dream,
did provide some knowledge he would later find useful. He spent a good deal
of time riding a neighbor's horse, becoming rather adept at the skill.
Also as a result of farm life, he quickly refuses culinary tastes
such as brains, tripe, etc., explaining that "I saw enough offal to keep me
going for life." If farm life wasn't his cup of tea, school was even less
so. Richard found himself being taunted by his peers for his size, and lectured
by teachers who felt he was "A relatively intelligent boy doing badly".
At the age of 15, he bid school life good-bye. Richard found
great enjoyment in "the late night double features", the old classic Sci-fi
movies of the era such as the Hammer films, When Worlds Collide, Doctor X,
etc. He has since noted that it was common for the men in the audience to
call out comments to the screen, often very snide remarks to impress their
girlfriends. Yet another thing that would come back. The images of these films,
as well as less-than-low-budget classics like Ed Wood films made a mark on
his mind. And perhaps watching the silver screen is what prompted the next
event in his life- namely giving up the notion of becoming a farmer and moving
to England, at the age of 22.
Meandering through a series of jobs which included truck driving
and hairdressing, Richard discovered that the skill of horseriding could become
a step in the door toward entertainment, and he was hired to be a stuntman
for a few films, most notably Carry On,
Cowboy and Casino Royale. But it was a road not long trod.
England required certain training and certification to gain work as a stuntman,
and Richard felt out of place with those he was working with. "They'd just
walk about- 'Eh, had a funny thing the other day- broke me ribs'" He began
to think about the other side of the lens, and about "making believe" Richard
decided that he wanted to be an actor. To make this endeavor a reality, he
enrolled himself in several acting courses and workshops that were available
at the time. In the meantime, to make ends meet, he worked as a "jobbing actor",
doing any role he could to survive. He also took the last name of O'Brien,
after his grandfather.
His first break was received when he joined the touring cast
of Hair in 1969. An important job, because not only was it work, but
it brought him together with later Frank-n-Furter, Tim Curry, as well as his
first wife Kimi Wong. In 1972, he got a small part in a production of Jesus
Christ Superstar. He was a chorus member, and the only line he actually
remembers as his very own was "see my purse, I'm a poor, poor man". He was
also the understudy to King Herod, and was given a chance to play the role,
which he interpreted as an Elvis Impersonator. The reception was notably less
than phenomenal, unfortunate especially today when you consider the current
way Herod is interpreted in modern presentations of the musical. Deciding
against returning to the chorus and his one sung line, he opted to quit the
his career as Herod was short-lived, one very useful element came from Superstar,
in the form of the production's Australian director, Jim Sharman. It was Sharman,
in fact, who gave Richard his next job. He was given the part of Willie the
Space Freak in the play The Unseen
Hand, by Sam Shepard, which was performed at the Royal Court's Theatre
Upstairs (The same venue that would later house The Rocky Horror Show) Richard
also teamed with his wife, Kimi Wong, to become Kimi
and Ritz. They released three singles in the UK under this moniker, including
the songs Merry Christmas, Baby; Pseud's Corner; I Was In Love With Danny,
But The Crowd Was In Love With Dean; and a song later to appear in Rocky,
Richard had not spent the time between Superstar and Hand unwisely. He had used the free time to work more on his songwriting,
which he himself has said is his favorite thing to do. After being invited
to perform at a Christmas party at EMI studios, he set about thinking what
he would do for the occasion, and sat down to write a song. The song that
surfaced was Science Fiction Double
Feature, Richard's homage to the movies that he had grown to love
as a young man. Following the warm reception of the song, and realizing it
could be a suitable overture of sorts for a musical, he set about writing
his first effort, the working title at the time being "They Came From
Richard approached Sharman with Science Fiction. He and musical
director for The Tooth of Crime (another Shepard play in which
Richard appeared as Crow) Richard Hartley went to Richard's flat to hear the
song and the small sections of script he had. After no less than three run-throughs
of the number, Sharman agreed to put on the play for a five-week run at the
The Rocky Horror Show ran
at the Theatre Upstairs for it's initial run, and was moved to the King's
Road Theatre, where it ran for 2 years. Lou Adler saw the musical, and immediately
snagged up the rights, looking to make a movie. The
Rocky Horror Picture Show was made on a very small budget,
and featured mostly reprised roles from the various incarnations of the musical
productions, and two American newcomers, Susan Sarandon in the role of Janet,
and Barry Bostwick as Brad.
the failure of the film to do much of anything in the theatres left Richard
less than successful. His marriage to Kimi broke up, and though he made several
attempts to recreate the magic of the Rocky Horror
Show with productions like Tee
Zee and Disaster at the Royal Court, they did little to advance
his career. In 1978, Richard appeared in Jubilee as John Dee.
He began to appear sporadically in films, slowly but surely
making headway in the form of character roles and bit parts, including small
roles in the Odd Job, which starred
Monty Python's Graham Chapman, and Flash
By now, Rocky had taken
it's footing as the cult classic it has become, and Richard's name began to
gain more and more credibility as a performer and writer. Approached by 20th
Century Fox to make a follow-up film to Rocky, Shock Treatment was
released, with Richard in the role of Cosmo McKinley, the deranged psychoanalyst.
But even with the success of Rocky, Shock Treatment failed to make the hoped-for impact, and Richard himself
has called it the worst acting he's ever done. Though he has publically decried
the merits of the film, he stands by the songs fiercely as being better in
many ways than those that appeared in Rocky.
More film and television appearances followed, including Revolution,
the short film subject The Contraption,
an appearance as the villain Gulnar in the British series Robin of Sherwood, as well as penning a few songs for the film The
Return of Captain Invincible.
Richard's resume resembles a long list of this that and the
other, and he has often pointed out that he simply took film roles for friends
as opposed to actually looking for them.
Richard turned his attentions back to music, and created the
alter ego, Mephistopheles Smith,
a devilish representative for the "afterlife
option" of Hell, which, according to the show, has now been dubbed "Club Inferno".
Richard even took the show on the road with Disgracefully Yours, as
well as performing at the 1992 Transylvanian Convention in England.
Television was kinder to O'Brien it seems, and he landed the
title role in the British children's television series The Ink Thief.
Playing the Vampiric villain, Richard said of his role that he "wanted children
to be scared, but not terrified". He also appeared in a long standing run
as the host of the Crystal Maze,
a British Game show. Richard left after four years as the host, claiming that
game show hosts get locked into the framework. Edward Tudor-Pole succeeded
Richard as the host, but many fans still consider Richard the best host the
has continued to be associated with Rocky Horror,
making television appearances and doing interviews, some of the most notable
include The Rocky Horror Video Show for MTV when Rocky was first released
on video in 1990 (where he appeared as General Riff-Raff), and more recently,
on Hollywood and Vinyl, the Halloween
Edition, where he performed acoustic numbers from the score. Sadly, most of
the performances were cut off by his interview, or just by commercials. But
the special, which was on Rocky itself,
focused mainly on him, a real treat for Richard O'Brien fans.
1998 was a busy year for O'Brien, appearing in no less than
three films. Dark City, a "dark fairy tale" with a Twilight-zone feel
was chosen by Roger Ebert as his favorite movie of the year. And director
Alex Proyas had no other actor in mind to play the villainous Stranger Mr.
Hand. Says Proyas in the DVD commentary for the film: "People often wonder
why my aliens always look so human. But there is no special effect that could
top Richard O'Brien."
Though Richard's on-set antics during the filming of Dark
City failed to turn it into a musical, as he was reportedly trying to
do- coming up with songs off the cuff to entertain the crew (Kiefer Sutherland
commented that only O'Brien could "write a song about
Necrophilia and make it sound like a good idea"), he showed up in two more
movies. One, a musical- though not by his doing- was SpiceWorld,
the Spice Girls attempt at making a Beatles movie.
The other, Ever After: A
Cinderella Story was hailed by movie-goers and critics alike. Richard
played the part of Pierre Le Pieu, a wealthy landowner who vies for Drew Barrymore's
affections. The worst part about filming in the middle of nowhere France?
According to Richard it was missing "The Simpsons".
On the musical end of the spectrum, 1998 (1999 for Americans)
also saw the release of his first studio album, Absolute
O'Brien. Termed musically by Richard as "Apartment Jazz", the album
is an eclectic mix of Jazz, Swing, and a touch of Rock'n'Roll. Richard has
toyed on and off with the idea of going out and performing a few shows from
the album, but for now his attentions are with the penning of the long-awaited
sequel to Rocky Horror.
2000 saw Richard in Dungeons
and Dragons as the leader of the Thieves' Guild, Xilus. Though the
film was widely panned by critics and fans of D&D alike, Richard's performance
was consistently cited as one of the highlights of the film. He also co-starred
with Elvira for Elvira's Haunted Hills,
which is slated for video release in the near future.
Richard lives in England and has three children- Linus, Joshua