A defining role can be both blessing and curse. In August of 1975, the week the The Rocky Horror Picture Show opened, its 29-year-old star, Tim Curry gave an interview. It would be at least a year until midnight audiences at New York’s Waverly Theatre started throwing toast, rice, and toilet paper at the screen, thus initiating an entire script’s worth of audience participation. In between clips of Curry’s Frank-n-Furter sashaying through such destined-to-become cult favourites as “Sweet Transvestite” and “The Time Warp,” in fishnets, merry widow, and maquillage designed by David Bowie’s personal makeup artist, the actor entertained questions. Having originated the role on the London stage (he auditioned with Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti”) and reprised it in L.A., Curry was clearly ready to put some space between himself and his iconic creation, announcing—correctly, as it turns out—that any sequels would have to proceed without him.
Then he clammed up for three decades, refusing to discuss his most iconic role until 2005.
After The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Curry began to star in many films, acting in supporting roles, such as Robert Graves in the British horror film The Shout, as Johnny LaGuardia in the cult classic, Times Square, as Daniel “Rooster” Hannigan in Annie, a film based on the Broadway musical of the same name and as Jeremy Hancock in the political film The Ploughman’s Lunch.
In 1985, Curry starred in the fantasy film, Legend as the Lord of Darkness. Director Ridley Scott cast Curry in the film after watching him in Rocky Horror, thinking he was ideal to play the role of Darkness. It took five and a half hours to apply the makeup needed for Darkness onto Curry and at the end of the day he would spend an hour in a bath in order to liquefy the soluble spirit gum. At one point, Curry got too impatient and claustrophobic and pulled the makeup off too quickly, tearing off his own skin in the process. Scott had to shoot around the actor for a week as a result.
The same year, he starred in the comedy mystery film Clue as Wadsworth the butler. After this, Curry began to star in more comedic roles throughout the late 1980s and ’90s such as Rev. Ray Porter in Pass the Ammo, Dr Thornton Poole in Oscar, Mr Hector in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Jigsaw in Loaded Weapon 1 and as Long John Silver in Muppet Treasure Island. Although he began to star in mostly comedies throughout the ’90s, he did star in some action films, such as the thriller The Hunt for Red October as Dr Yeveniy Petrov, the 1993 reboot of The Three Musketeers as Cardinal Richelieu, in the superhero film The Shadow as Farley Claymore, and as Herkermer Homolka in the 1995 action adventure Congo.
In the early 2000s, Curry starred in two box office hits, the first being the film adaptation of Charlie’s Angels as the role of Roger Corwin and the second being the parody film Scary Movie 2 playing Professor Oldman. Curry then went on to play Thurman Rice, a supporting role in the critically acclaimed biographical film Kinsey.
In recent years, Curry has mostly only starred in animated roles starting with the performance of the Serpent in The Greatest Adventure: Stories from the Bible. Curry also portrayed Captain Hook in the Fox animated series Peter Pan and the Pirates. Curry won a Daytime Emmy for his performance. Arguably Curry’s most famous animated television role was in The Wild Thornberrys, where he played Nigel Thornberry. Curry was mainly known for antagonist roles in animated series such as MAL in Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Skullmaster in Mighty Max, Dr Anton Sevarius in Gargoyles, George Herbert Walker ‘King’ Chicken in Duckman, Lord Dragaunus in The Mighty Ducks, Professor Finbar Calamitous in The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Slagar the Cruel in Redwall, and G. Gordon Godfrey in Young Justice. He also became the voice of Palpatine in Star Wars: The Clone Wars upon the death of Ian Abercrombie.
Curry also appeared in a number of animated films such as FernGully: The Last Rainforest, The Pebble and the Penguin, all three Rugrats films as side characters (excluding Rugrats Go Wild where he reprises his role as Nigel Thornberry), Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost, The Wild Thornberrys Movie, The Cat Returns, Valiant, Garfield: Tail of Two Kitties, Fly Me to the Moon,¡ Mucha Lucha!: The Return of El Maléfico and many more.
Curry has also lent his voice to numerous video games, such as, Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers and Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned, where he voiced the title character, Gabriel Knight, Toonstruck, Sacrifice, Brütal Legend and Dragon Age: Origins.
Although Curry has starred in numerous television series throughout his career he has only had main roles in two: Over the Top, a sitcom that he also produced, and the revival series of Family Affair. Both were cancelled after one season. One of Curry’s best-known television roles, and best-known roles overall, is Pennywise the Dancing Clown in the 1990 horror miniseries Stephen King’s It. Aside from one Fangoria interview in 1990, Curry never publicly acknowledged his involvement in It until an interview with Moviefone in 2015, where he called the role of Pennywise “a wonderful part”, giving his blessing to successor Will Poulter who is set to play the character in the upcoming reboot.
But despite his rich and varied career it will always be ‘Rocky Horror’ that Tim Curry will be remembered for most fondly. Curry’s first full-time role was as part of the original London cast of the musical Hair in 1968, where he first met Richard O’Brien who went on to write The Rocky Horror Show. Curry recalled his first encounter with the project:
I’d heard about the play because I lived on Paddington Street, off Baker Street, and there was an old gym a few doors away. I saw Richard O’Brien in the street, and he said he’d just been to the gym to see if he could find a muscleman who could sing. I said, “Why do you need him to sing?” And he told me that his musical was going to be done, and I should talk to Jim Sharman. He gave me the script, and I thought, “Boy, if this works, it’s going to be a smash.
Originally, Curry rehearsed the character with a German accent and peroxide blond hair, and later, with an American accent. In the 2005 interview with Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air, he explained that he decided to play Dr Frank N. Furter with an English accent after listening to an English woman say, “Do you have a house in town or a house in the country,” and decided, “Yes, (Dr Frank N. Furter) should sound like the Queen.” Curry originally thought the character was merely a laboratory doctor dressed in a white lab coat. However, at the suggestion of director Sharman, the character evolved into the diabolical mad scientist and transvestite with an upper-class Belgravia accent that carried over to the film version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and made Curry both a star and a cult figure. He continued to play the character in London, Los Angeles and New York City until 1975.
Curry called Rocky Horror a “rite of passage,” and added that the film is “a guaranteed weekend party to which you can go with or without a date and probably find one if you don’t have one and it’s also a chance for people to try on a few roles for size, you know? Figure out, help them maybe figure out their own sexuality.”