An shy, slender actor whose name became virtually synonymous with legendary screen Psycho Norman Bates despite numerous solid performances in films outside the Hitchcock originated series, Anthony Perkins' sensitive and versatile early performances remain unfortunately obscured by his portrayal of the gender-bending sociopath that made filmgoers reluctant to shower alone for decades to come.
Born to actor Osgood Perkins in April 1932 (who would die when Tony was but five years old), the young Perkins decided to follow in his father's footsteps when, at age 15, he became a member of the Actor's Equity. Soon taking the stage in summer stock, the fledgling and humble thespian embraced even the more unglamorous aspects of stage work and worked tirelessly to develop into an actor who could find celluloid success. Subsequent performances in such Rollins College productions as The Importance of Being Ernest helped him to develop the necessary skills, and following a relocation to Hollywood, Perkins was cast alongside Spencer Tracy in the film adaptation of Ruth Gordon's dramatic play The Actress. Reluctant to dive headfirst into what he considered the questionable ethics of Tinsletown, Perkins packed his bags for Columbia University. Landing roles in such Golden Age of Television staples as Studio One and G.E. Theater found the actor continuing to gain positive notice and exposure, with the success carrying over to Broadway, where Perkins would gain the respect of some of New York's harshest critics for his performance as a college student suspected of homosexuality in Robert Anderson's Tea and Sympathy. Nearly becoming a teen idol after crooning "A Little Love Goes a Long, Long Way" in the Goodyear TV Playhouse production Joey, Perkins was signed to Epic Records and later RCA Victor shortly before earning an Oscar nomination for his breakthrough roles in both William Wyler's Friendly Persuasion (1956) and Robert Mulligan's Fear Strikes Out (1957). With his portrayal as a timid pacifist and a disturbed baseball player respectively, Perkins' sensitive performances riveted audiences and resulted in numerous film offers.
Appearing in The Matchmaker (1958) and On the Beach (1959) in the following years, Perkins' screen image as a soft-spoken everyman would be forever shattered with the release of Alfred Hitchcock's controversial masterpiece Psycho. Purposefully cast against type as twitchy, psychotic mama's boy Norman Bates, it would be that characterization which would haunt Perkins' career for the rest of his days. In an attempt to shake the association, Perkins would move to Europe after becoming a minor cultural icon following his role in Goodbye Again (1961) (for which he was named Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival). Appearing in such efforts as Orson Welles' The Trial (1963) and Is Paris Buring? (1966) throughout much of the duration of the 1960s, Perkins made somewhat of a return to American screens with such later efforts as Pretty Poison (1968), Catch-22 (1970), and Mahogany (1975). Working more frequently in television moving into the 1980s (1978's Les Miserables and The Sins of Dorian Gray ), Perkins also continued to thrill theatergoers with roles in such films as The Black Hole (1979) and Ffolkes (1980) before returning to the character of Norman Bates in the inevitable sequel Psycho II. Directed this time by Hitchcock protégé Richard Franklin, the film proved a success and ranked among the top ten releases of 1983. From this point forward there would be little deviation from the twitchy theatricals that Perkins had perfected, and though entertaining in such efforts as Crimes of Passion (1984) and Edge of Sanity (1989), contemporary audiences would sadly witness little of the talented actor's pre-Psycho dramatic range. Associated almost exclusively with horror films by the onset of the 1990s, Perkins would return to the role of Bates for one last outing in the made-for-cable Psycho IV: The Beginning before serving as host to the short-lived television horror anthology series Chillers (1990).
Taking the director's chair for the curious but widely ignored Psycho III (1986), it was only a short time later that Perkins would learn of his contraction of the virus that causes AIDS after reading of it in the tabloids. Working tirelessly alongside his longtime wife, Berry Berenson, for Project Angel Food (a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing meals to AIDS patients) in his later years, Perkins' philosophical statements regarding the ravaging disease that many considered a curse of humanity showed neither bitterness, anger, nor resentment toward the disease, but that his experiences in dealing with it had taught him more about compassion and love than he ever learned in his years in the film industry. On September 12, 1992, Perkins succumbed to AIDS-related pneumonia in Hollywood, CA, leaving behind a haunting but hopeful message to those who have suffered from the disease in an uncredited epilogue to the AIDS drama And the Band Played On (1993). Perkins left behind a son, who also embarked on an acting career with such efforts as Legally Blonde and Not Another Teen Movie (both 2001). Tragically, Perkins' wife was a passenger on one of the terrorist-hijacked planes that crashed into the World Trade Center a day before the nine-year anniversary of Perkins' death.