Richard O'Brien

Richard O'Brien

Infobox actor

imagesize = 180px
caption = Richard O'Brien in 2006
birthname = Richard Timothy Smith
birthdate = birth date and age|1942|3|25
birthplace = Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England, United Kingdom
deathdate =
othername = Richard O'Brien
homepage =

Richard Timothy Smith (born March 25 1942), better known under his stage name Richard O'Brien, is an English-born, New Zealand-raised writer, actor, television presenter and theatre performer. He is perhaps best known for writing the cult musical "The Rocky Horror Show" and for his role in presenting the popular TV show "The Crystal Maze". In addition to writing "The Rocky Horror Show" O'Brien also starred in its 1975 film adaptation "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" as the character Riff Raff. The stage show has been in almost continuous production since, and the cinematic version is one of the best known and most ardently followed cult films of all time.


Early life

O'Brien was born Richard Timothy Smith in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England. In 1942, O'Brien emigrated with his family to Tauranga, New Zealand, where his father had purchased a sheep farm. After learning 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 returned to England in 1964. Upon launching his acting career he changed his name to O'Brien, his maternal grandmother's name, [ [ Richard O'Brien (I) - Biography ] ] as there was already an actor named Richard Smith.

Early work

After taking a few Method acting classes, O'Brien 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. May 1972 saw the birth of his son Linus by Kimi Wong, and that summer 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, and would help 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. [Harding, James (1987). "The Rocky Horror Show Book." London: Sidgwick & Jackson. 22-23.]

O'Brien tried to repeat the success and cult status that "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" gained, with a follow-up movie, 1981's "Shock Treatment". Four other members of the original film-cast appeared with O'Brien in the new film, which continued the story of Brad and Janet, played by Cliff de Young and Jessica Harper. Over the years it has achieved minor cult status, mostly thanks to the Rocky Horror phenomenon. Fans of Rocky Horror were disappointed by the absence of both the Dr. Frank-N-Furter character, and Tim Curry, who played him. Curry had been offered the role of Farley Flavors, but turned it down over concerns about the required American accent. O'Brien wrote new songs for the film, which also features a rare film appearance by Australian actor Barry Humphries, famous for his character Dame Edna Everage.

Later career

Richard 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). In 1995 O'Brien wrote his one-man revue "Disgracefully Yours," singing as Mephistopheles Smith. O'Brien became a serial bit-part actor in cult films and has appeared in notable movies such as "Jubilee" (1977), "Flash Gordon" (1980), "Dark City" (1998), "Ever After" (1998), and "Dungeons & Dragons" (2000). Additionally he guest starred in five episodes in the third season of the popular HTV dramatisation of Robin Hood, as the corrupt druid, Gulnar.

In 1998 he released a music CD of the songs from "Disgracefully Yours" entitled "Absolute O'Brien."

He became the presenter of UK Channel 4's popular game show "The Crystal Maze" in 1990, specialising in sardonic put-downs and harmonica playing. The show's heyday was around 1991-1993. Richard left The Crystal Maze in 1993 after the fourth series; the show was then taken over by Edward Tudor-Pole. It was regularly Channel 4's highest watched programme, mainly seen by children and young adults (particularly university students who made it into a cult show), reaching a peak of 7 million viewers for the 1993 Christmas special. The extent of both the shows and to a large extent O'Brien's success is shown by the fact that "The Crystal Maze" was named 'Greatest UK Game Show of All Time' in a 2006 poll by the website. Indeed, it never achieved the same degree of success under Tudor-Pole, and was discontinued within two years.

In other roles O'Brien has conceptualized and played the role of the Child Catcher in the West End theatre production of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang". He also occasionally does cabaret-style music and comedy performances 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", which was later given permission to be adapted into a musical, performed first by 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.

Richard O'Brien will perform in "Thank-You for the Music", an 90 minute ABBA documentary for ITV, directed by Martin Koch, who previously directed the musical "Mamma Mia!" [ [] News October 24, 2006 (Accessed October 26, 2006)] The documentary will include a remake of the mini musical "The Girl with the Golden Hair" which ABBA performed during their 1977 world tour and which was featured on "The Album". The musical will be performed at the Prince of Wales Theatre and feature Richard O'Brien, Liz McClarnon, and the Dynamos. [ [] News October 31, 2006 (Accessed November 1, 2006)]

He is also a patron of the Five Stars Scanner Appeal, [ [ Five Stars - Home ] ] which benefits the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital, UK. From 2001 until 2006 he hosted the annual Transfandango, [ [ Transfandango home page ] ] 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'.

He wrote a Rocky Horror sequel which ended up as "Shock Treatment". A script for a rumored sequel entitled "Revenge of the Old Queen", has been circulated on the web and reproduced on various fansites, though officially denied as O'Brien's work by his representatives. While he has worked on a screenplay of that title, it was never publicly released, nor will a film ever be made. He has been working again on "The Stripper" (based on the book by Carter Brown), a musical for which he wrote the lyrics.

In 2004, Hamilton City Council of New Zealand honoured O'Brien's contribution to the arts with a statue of Riff Raff, the character Richard played in "The Rocky Horror Show", on the site of the former Embassy Cinema. His love of horror and similar genres can be traced back to the countless afternoons he spent watching double feature horror/sci-fi films at the Embassy before he moved back to England.

In September 2007 he reprised his role as the Child Catcher for the final 2 weeks of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"'s 5 year UK 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 and presented "An Evening With Richard O'Brien", in conjunction with an independent NZ film group, planning to film a musical based on his early life, "The King's Stilettoes".

He is scheduled to host another television series slated for late night airing in the UK in the summer of 2008, "Richard O'Brien's Dead Strange".


* "Jackboots on Whitehall" (2008) - Himmler (voice)
* "Phineas and Ferb" (2008) - Lawrence Fletcher (Dad)
* "Elvira's Haunted Hills" (2001) - Lord Vladimere Hellsubus
* "The Mumbo Jumbo" (2000) - Archie
* "Dungeons & Dragons" (2000) - Xilus
* "Ever After" (1998) - Pierre Le Pieu
* "Dark City" (1998) - Mr. Hand
* "Spiceworld" (1997) - Damien
* "The Crystal Maze" (TV) (1990 - 1993) - Presenter
* "The Wolves of Willoughby Chase" (1989) - James
* "Shock Treatment" (1981) - Dr. Cosmo McKinley
* "Flash Gordon" (1980) - Fico
* "Jubilee" (1977) - John Dee
* "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975) - Riff Raff
* "Carry On Cowboy" (1965) - Rider


External links

*imdb name|id=0639782|name=Richard O'Brien
* [ Richard O'Brien at]
* [ The Richard O'Brien Crusade] , a fansite
* [ Richard O'Brien - God of Cult] , a LiveJournal community
* [ Transfandango] , Richard O'Brien's annual charity fundraiser
* [] , for the tribute statue in Hamilton, New Zealand

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