Richard O'Brien (born Richard Timothy Smith on March 25, 1942 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England) is a writer, actor, television presenter and theatre performer. He is best known for writing the cult musical The Rocky Horror Show and 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.
In 1952, he 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 mother's maiden name—as there was already an actor named Richard Smith.
He joined several stage productions as an actor without ever excelling or receiving critical acclaim, but that was not his primary objective. In 1972, he met director Jim Sharman who would help make his draft of a gothic-themed, schlock-horror comic-book fantasy romp into a reality. The script took O'Brien 6 months to write, Sharman suggested changing the working title They Came from Denton High to The Rocky Horror Show and the show opened in June 1973.
Due to the success and cult status that The Rocky Horror Picture Show gained, O'Brien tried to recreate the success with a continuation, 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). It did poorly in theaters, but over the years has achieved minor cult status, mostly thanks to the Rocky Horror phenomenon. Fans of Rocky Horror were disappointed by the absense of both the 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).
He became a serial bit-part actor in cult films and has appeared in notable movies such as Flash Gordon (1980), Dark City (1998) and Dungeons and Dragons (2000). Additionally he guest starred three times in the popular HTV dramatisation of Robin Hood, as the corrupt druid, Gulnar.
He also guaranteed a cross-generational following for both himself and The Rocky Horror Show when he became the presenter of UK Channel 4's popular game show "The Crystal Maze" in 1990, delighting audiences with his sardonic put-downs and off-key harmonica-playing antics. He has most recently 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 1996, he performed a select number of shows as the devilish charmer, Mephistopheles Smith, in a musical/comedy show he wrote entitled Disgracefully Yours. In late 2005, he appeared (as the spirit of the mirror) in the mime version of Snow White, which played at the Milton Keynes Theatre.
He is also a patron of the Wallness Children's Charity, which benefits the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital (UK). He hosts the annual Transfandango, a gala gathering of "Dearhearts and Trans 'n' Gentle People" to raise money for the hospital.
He has said that he is working on a Rocky Horror sequel, so hopefully this time it ends up coming to light. He has also said that he is working again on The Stripper (based on the book by Carter Brown), a musical he wrote the lyrics to.
O'Brien married actress Kimi Wong in 1973 after they met during a production of Hair. He had one son with her, Linus, before divorcing. In 1983 he married Jane Moss, with whom he has two children, Joshua and Amelia. His sexuality has repeatedly been questioned, but while he refuses to label himself straight, gay or bisexual, he has stated that he feels "forever confined to no-man's land".
In an interview in the 10th edition of The Tranny Guide (WayOut Publishing, 2002) O'Brien stated: "As a child growing up in the 1940's, I sometimes found myself wanting to be the fairy princess. I quickly realised that it was not something you said out loud with brothers in earshot. To wear a frock very often leads people to jump to the conclusion that one is homosexual, or bisexual. Both of these terms are repugnant to me as they are limiting and tend to ghettoize people. I'm (as I see it anyway) a member of the wonderful tranny human race."
In 2004, Hamilton City Council 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 RuneScape, a multiplayer online game, there is an homage to O'Brien in the form of a non-playable character named "Brien O'Richard". O'Richard runs the "Rogue's Den" mini-game, a maze of short puzzles similar to those found in The Crystal Maze.