Richard O'Brien

Active - 1975 - 2017  |   Born - Mar 25, 1942 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England  |   Genres - Comedy, Science Fiction, Horror

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Known to legions of obsessed fans for writing, directing, and playing hunchbacked butler Riff Raff in the legendary cult movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show, British-born Richard O'Brien grew up in New Zealand. His father, an accountant, decided to switch career paths and become a sheep farmer when O'Brien was just nine, possibly planting in the young tyke the idea to make a movie about square people shaking off the strictures of modern life.

He became interested in science fiction movies and rock & roll at a young age, and in 1964, he moved back to England to pursue a singing and acting career. Working in the theater, he met director Jim Sharman while appearing in a production of Jesus Christ Superstar. He would come to work with Sharman on his own musical, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which opened on-stage in 1973. By 1975, O'Brien was adapting the play for the screen, unknowingly creating a massive cultural phenomenon.

The film went on to become perhaps the most quintessential cult hit, and O'Brien's legacy was sealed. Nonetheless, he continued to work constantly, appearing in everything from Spice World to Dungeons & Dragons, as well as writing and recording his own music.

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Factsheet

  • Moved to New Zealand in 1952 when his father purchased a sheep farm.
  • Left school at 15 to enroll in a three-year dairy-farming course.
  • Changed his name from Smith to O'Brien (his maternal grandmother's maiden name) because there was already an established actor named Richard Smith.
  • Appeared in London stage productions of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar in the early 1970s.
  • Got his start in films as a stuntman.
  • Wife Kimi Wong and he recorded pop singles in the mid-1970s under the name Kimi & Ritz.
  • Hosted the popular British game show The Crystal Maze from 1990 to 1993. His replacement, Ed Tudor-Pole, had also once played Riff Raff, the character O'Brien had originated in The Rocky Horror Picture Show
  • In 2004, his contributions to the arts were honored with the erection of a statue of Riff Raff at a theater in Hamilton, New Zealand.
  • Was refused New Zealand citizenship in 2010 for being too old, but the country reconsidered and granted his request in 2011.
  • Provides the voice of Ferb's father in the animated kids TV series Phineas and Ferb.