Richard O'Brien (born Richard Smith; 25 March 1942) is an English-New Zealand actor, writer, musician, television presenter, and theatre performer. After a long and successful career based in the United Kingdom, he gained dual citizenship with New Zealand in 2011, where, as a boy, he resided in Tauranga.
25 March 1942
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England
New Zealand (since 2011)
|Education||Tauranga Boys' College|
|Notable works||The Rocky Horror Show (writer and actor) |
Robin of Sherwood (series 3, as Gulnar)
The Crystal Maze (presenter)
Phineas and Ferb (voice of Lawrence Fletcher)
|Spouse||Kimi Wong (m. 1971–1979; divorced)|
Jane Moss (m. 1983–2006; divorced)
Sabrina Graf (m. 2013–present)
O'Brien wrote the musical stage show The Rocky Horror Show, which has remained in almost continuous production. He also co-wrote the screenplay of the film adaptation The Rocky Horror Picture Show, released in 1975, appearing in the film as Riff Raff. O'Brien also appeared in the hugely popular ITV series Robin of Sherwood in 1984–1986, as Gulnar, alongside Jason Connery. He presented the television show The Crystal Maze for Channel 4 from 1990 to 1993. He hosted the 1993 Brit Awards and in 1997 appeared in the Spice Girls film Spice World. He is the voice of Lawrence Fletcher, the title characters' father in Phineas and Ferb (2007–2015).
O'Brien was born Richard Smith in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. He emigrated with his family to Tauranga, New Zealand, at the age of 10, where his accountant father had purchased a sheep farm. He went to Tauranga Boys' College. He returned to England in 1964, after having learned how to ride horses (a skill which provided him with his break into the film industry as a stuntman in Carry On Cowboy) and developing a keen interest in comic books and horror films. He launched his acting career using his maternal grandmother's name, as there was already an actor named Richard Smith.
He has credited his time in New Zealand with instilling in him a sense of egalitarianism that enabled him to ignore the negative implications of social class in the UK upon returning, and gave him "a great sense of freedom".
To improve his acting skills, O'Brien took method acting classes, and then joined several stage productions as an actor. In 1970, he went into the touring production of Hair for nine months, and spent another nine months in the London production. In the summer of 1972, he met director Jim Sharman who cast him as an Apostle and Leper in the London production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Sharman then cast O'Brien as Willie, the alien in his March 1973 production of Sam Shepard's The Unseen Hand at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs.
Sharman also helped make O'Brien's draft of a gothic-themed, schlock-horror comic-book fantasy romp into a reality. Sharman suggested changing the working title from They Came from Denton High, and The Rocky Horror Show opened at the Theatre Upstairs in June 1973. Within weeks it had become a box-office hit, moving from the Royal Court to the Pheasantry, a nearby venue in the King's Road, then to the Classic Cinema and eventually into the West End at the Comedy Theatre.
After seeing the second night's performance of The Rocky Horror Show in the Theatre Upstairs, Jonathan King produced the original cast soundtrack in just over 48 hours during an off-stage weekend, and rushed it out on his UK Records label. He also became a 20% backer with producer Michael White, who put up the remaining 80%.
O'Brien continued writing musicals with arranger Richard Hartley, including: T. Zee (1976), Disaster (1978), The Stripper (1982 – based on the Carter Brown novel and produced in Australia), and Top People (1984). O'Brien and Hartley also provided three songs for the film The Return of Captain Invincible (1983), starring Alan Arkin. O'Brien wrote his one-man revue Disgracefully Yours (1985) singing as Mephistopheles Smith.
O'Brien became a serial bit-part film actor and has appeared in Jubilee (1977), Flash Gordon (1980), Dark City (1998), Ever After (1998) and Dungeons & Dragons (2000), among others. Additionally he guest starred in five episodes in the third season of the HTV dramatisation of Robin of Sherwood, as the corrupt druid Gulnar. A music CD of the songs from Disgracefully Yours entitled Absolute O'Brien was released in 1998.
He became the presenter of UK Channel 4's game show The Crystal Maze in 1990, specialising in sardonic put-downs, occasional eccentricities and playing his harmonica at random intervals. The show ran from 1990 to 1995, with O'Brien presenting the first four series. It was regularly Channel 4's highest-rated programme, reaching a peak of 7 million viewers for the 1993 Christmas special. O'Brien left The Crystal Maze in 1993 after the fourth series; the show was then taken over by Edward Tudor-Pole. After two series without O'Brien, the show was cancelled.
In other roles O'Brien has conceptualised and played the role of the Child Catcher in the West End theatre production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He also occasionally performs cabaret-style music and comedy on stages around the world, singing songs from Rocky Horror among others. In 1995, he performed a select number of shows as the devilish charmer Mephistopheles Smith in a musical/comedy show he wrote entitled Disgracefully Yours, to which he later gave permission to be adapted into a musical, first by Eubank Productions for the Kansas City Fringe Fest in 2006, and more recently by Janus Theatre Company for the Edinburgh Fringe 2007, simply entitled Mephistopheles Smith. In late 2005, he appeared (as the spirit of the mirror) in the pantomime version of Snow White, which played at the Milton Keynes Theatre. In the summer of 2006, he played the Child Catcher in the Queen's 80th birthday celebrations at Buckingham Palace.
O'Brien performed in Thank-You for the Music, a 90-minute ABBA documentary for ITV, directed by Martin Koch, who previously directed the musical Mamma Mia! The documentary included a remake of the mini musical '"The Girl with the Golden Hair" which ABBA performed during their 1977 world tour and featured on ABBA: The Album (also 1977). The musical was performed at the Prince of Wales Theatre and featured Richard O'Brien, Liz McClarnon and the Dynamos. He also hosted the 1993 Brit Awards.
A patron of the Five Stars Scanner Appeal, which benefits the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital. From 2001-06 he hosted the annual Transfandango, gala gathering of Dearhearts and Trans 'n' Gentle People to raise money for the hospital. This has now been superseded by Richard O'Brien's Halloween Party.
A script for another rumoured sequel entitled Revenge of the Old Queen of Rocky Horror, has been circulated on the web and reproduced on various fan sites, although it has officially denied as O'Brien's work by his representatives. While he has worked on a screenplay by that title, it was never publicly released. He wrote the lyrics for The Stripper (based on the book by Carter Brown), a musical which had its British premiere at the Queen's Theatre in Hornchurch, Essex on 28 August 2009.
In 2004, members of the Hamilton City Council in New Zealand honoured O'Brien's contribution to the arts with a statue of Riff Raff, the character he played in The Rocky Horror Show, on the site of the former Embassy Cinema.
O'Brien was denied New Zealand citizenship in June, 2010, and so could himself not settle in the country. He commented, "They build a statue of me and celebrate me as a New Zealander, but I have to go on my knees and do all sorts of things, and I'm probably too old." O'Brien did eventually become a New Zealand citizen, in December 2011.
In September 2007, he reprised his role as the Child Catcher for the final two weeks of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's five-year British run, and then played the role in its Singapore engagement for the month of November, extended to 9 December. Also in December, he visited Hamilton, New Zealand for An Evening With Richard O'Brien, with presenter Mark Sainsbury and director Fiona Jackson."Fiona Jackson". Retrieved 10 March 2016.
In December 2008, O'Brien donated his original script Pig in Boots to the Wireless Theatre Company, who converted it into an audio pantomime. The show was recorded live at the Headliners Comedy Club in front of a studio audience with live FX and music. The production was opened by an original interview with O'Brien. In October 2012, O'Brien judged "Stage Fright" with the Wireless Theatre Company as part of the London Horror Festival and performed an acoustic set of Rocky Horror songs.
In March 2012, he gave a performance of song and autobiographical stories, It's Party Time with Richard O'Brien at the Hamilton Founders Theatre to celebrate his 70th birthday. In June 2012, he returned to Hamilton, New Zealand, to appear on stage as Fagin with the Hamilton Operatic Society's production of Oliver! at the Founders Theatre.
In September 2016 O'Brien opened the second stage Embassy Park in Hamilton together with Mayor Julie Hardaker. In October 2016, he appeared as the Crystal Maze Computer in a one-off Celebrity Crystal Maze episode for the charity 'Stand Up To Cancer' on Channel 4.
In a 2009 interview O'Brien spoke about an ongoing struggle to reconcile cultural gender roles and described himself as being transgender or possible third sex (genderqueer). O'Brien stated, "There is a continuum between male and female. Some are hard-wired one way or another, I’m in between." He expounded on this in a 2013 interview where he talked about using estrogen for the previous decade, and that he views himself as 70% male and 30% female. In 2017, O'Brien came under controversy when he said that transgender women were not real women.
In June 2010, the media reported that O'Brien had been denied New Zealand citizenship owing to his being too old under the country's immigration criteria. O'Brien's application appeared to garner public support and the decision was later overturned on appeal. In August 2010, New Zealand's Dominion Post reported that O'Brien would be allowed residency and possibly citizenship as an "exceptional" case. According to the Waikato Times, he was officially registered as a New Zealand citizen on 14 December 2011.
O'Brien has married three times and has three children. He and actress Kimi Wong were married on 4 December 1971 and had a son Linus in May 1972. He has a son and daughter from his second marriage to designer Jane Moss.
On 7 July 2012, aged 70, he proposed to Sabrina Graf, aged 35, a native of Germany, whom he had been dating for three years. They married on 6 April 2013 at their home in Katikati, Bay of Plenty.
- Carry On Cowboy (1965) – Rider
- Zee and Co. (1971)
- Four Dimensions of Greta (1972)
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) – Riff Raff, and the church custodian in the opening scene
- Jubilee (1977) – John Dee
- The Odd Job (1978) – Batch
- Flash Gordon (1980) – Fico
- Shock Treatment (1981) – Dr. Cosmo McKinley
- Revolution (1985) - Lord Hampton
- Robin of Sherwood (1986) – Gulnar
- The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1989) – James
- The Crystal Maze (TV) (1990–1993, 2016) – Presenter
- The Ink Thief (TV) (1994) – The Ink Thief
- The Detectives (TV) (1995) – Dr. Phibes, Police Mortician
- Spiceworld (1997) – Damien
- Ever After (1998) – Pierre Le Pieu
- Dark City (1998) – Mr. Hand
- The Mumbo Jumbo (2000) – Archie
- Dungeons & Dragons (2000) – Xilus
- Elvira's Haunted Hills (2001) – Lord Vladimere Hellsubus
- Phineas and Ferb (2007-2015) – Lawrence Fletcher (voice)
- Night Train (2009) – Mrs Froy
- Jackboots on Whitehall (2010) – Himmler (voice)
- Manor Hunt Ball (2011) – Uncle Felix
- Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension - Lawrence Fletcher (voice)
- Mongrels (2011) – Zombie Dog, Series 2 Episode 2
- The DNA Detectives (2015) – Presenter
- The Stolen (2017) – Mr Russell
- Biography for Richard O'Brien on IMDb
- "From Rocky Horror to Katikati - Richard O'Brien speaks". NZ Herald. 14 March 2017 – via www.nzherald.co.nz.
- "Richard O'Brien". Retrieved 10 March 2016.
- Shewey, Don (1997), Sam Shepard, Da Capo, p. 87, ISBN 9780306807701, retrieved 10 March 2016
- Harding, James (1987). The Rocky Horror Show Book. Sidgwick & Jackson. pp. 22–23.
- Chalmers, Robert (22 April 2012). "Jonathan King: 'The only apology I have is to say that I was good at seduction'". The Independent on Sunday. London, UK.
- O'Bonzo, Andrew (May 2000), A Talk with Richard O'Brien's music publisher, Andy Leighton (57), Crazed Imaginations, pp. 12–15
- "Absolute O'Brien CD by Richard O'Brien (1999)". Retrieved 10 March 2016.
- Stadlin, Matthew (14 September 2015). "Richard O'Brien interview: 'There's a lot of male in me – and a lot of girl as well'". Retrieved 10 March 2016.
- "News: Mamma Mia Lil!". Lil McClarnon official fansite. 24 October 2006. Archived from the original on 30 November 2006. Retrieved 18 May 2017.
- "Five Stars – Home". Fivestarsappeal.co.uk. 20 June 2009. Retrieved 24 July 2009.
- "Transfandango home page". Wayout-publishing.com. Archived from the original on 5 April 2009. Retrieved 24 July 2009.
- "An Interview with Richard O'Brien". Archived from the original on 29 March 2016. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
- "The Embassy - Home - Riff Raff Statue > Victoria Street > Hamilton > New Zealand". riffraffstatue.org. Archived from the original on 18 September 2014.
- "Cult icon denied retirement in Bay". Bay of Plenty Times. 5 June 2010. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
- Swainson, Richard (10 January 2012). "A drink with a hometown hero". Waikato Times. Retrieved 27 January 2012.
- "An Evening With Richard O'Brien". Eventfinda. Retrieved 22 February 2016.
- The Wireless Theatre Company.
- Rocky Horror songs Archived 18 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine
- Milroy, Yvonne (10 May 2012). "Richard O'Brien joins 'Oliver!' rehearsals". Retrieved 10 March 2016.
- Creator Richard O'Brien To Star In The Rocky Horror Show Limited Run At Playhouse Theatre, LondonTheatreDirect.com, 25 August 2015.
- "Second stage of Hamilton's Embassy Park unveiled tonight". www.voxy.co.nz.
- "Richard O'Brien IS in the new Crystal Maze". Digital Spy. 11 October 2016.
- Richard O'Brien: "Society should not dictate gender" Archived 27 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine, PinkNews.co.uk, 18 August 2009.
- Fidgen, Jo (18 March 2013). "Richard O'Brien: 'I'm 70% man'". BBC News. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
- Duffy, Nick (8 March 2016). "Rocky Horror star Richard O'Brien: Trans women can't be women". Pink News.
- Hunt, Tom (2 August 2010). "Rocky Horror creator to be granted NZ residency". The Dominion Post. Retrieved 5 November 2011.
- Edwards, Natalie (19 January 2013). "Love at the double: Crystal Maze star Richard O'Brien, 70, to marry his girlfriend, 35". Mirror UK. Retrieved 22 August 2013.
- "Richard O'Brien's white wedding". Bay of Plenty Times. 8 April 2013. Retrieved 22 August 2013.
- "Rocky Horror star marries". Sunlive. 7 April 2013. Retrieved 22 August 2013.
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