Richard Timothy Smith (born 25 March 1942), better known under his stage name Richard O'Brien, is a New Zealand writer, actor, television presenter and theatre performer. He is 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 co-wrote the screenplay of the 1975 film adaptation The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and appeared in the film as the character Riff Raff. The stage show has been in almost continuous production and the cinematic version, which has been in continuous release, is one of the best known and most ardently followed cult films of all time. He is also the voice of Lawrence Fletcher, the title characters' father in Phineas and Ferb.
O'Brien was born Richard Timothy Smith in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. In 1951, 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, as there was already an actor named Richard Smith.
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. He and actress Kimi Wong were married on 4 December 1971. May 1972 saw the birth of his son Linus by Kimi, 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. Within weeks it had become the cult show to see in London theatre, moving from the Royal Court to a nearby venue the Pheasantry in the King's Road, then to the Classic Cinema and eventually into the West End at the Comedy Theatre. After seeing the second night's performance in the Theatre Upstairs, Jonathan King produced the original cast soundtrack in just over 48 hours during an off stage weekend and rushed it out on his UK Records label. He also became a 20% backer with producer Michael White, who put up the remaining 80%. During this period, O'Brien and his wife recorded and released a number of pop singles under the name Kimi and Ritz.
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). O'Brien and Hartley also provided three songs for the 1983 film The Return of Captain Invincible, starring Alan Arkin. 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 films 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 of Sherwood, as the corrupt druid. 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, occasional eccentricities and playing his harmonica at random intervals. The show's heyday was around 1991–1993. It was regularly Channel 4's most 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 UKGameshows.com website. Richard left The Crystal Maze in 1993 after the fourth series; the show was then taken over by Edward Tudor-Pole. It never achieved the same degree of success under Tudor-Pole, and was discontinued within two years.
In other roles O'Brien has conceptualised 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 Eubank Productions for 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 performed in Thank-You for the Music, a 90-minute ABBA documentary for ITV, directed by Martin Koch, who previously directed the musical Mamma Mia! The documentary included 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 was performed at the Prince of Wales Theatre and featured Richard O'Brien, Liz McClarnon and the Dynamos. He also hosted the 1993 Brit Awards.
He is also a patron of the Five Stars Scanner Appeal, which benefits the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital. From 2001 until 2006 he hosted the annual Transfandango, 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'.
A script for another rumoured 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 by that title, it was never publicly released. He has been working again on The Stripper (based on the book by Carter Brown), a musical for which he wrote the lyrics and which had its British premiere at the Queen's Theatre in Hornchurch, Essex on 28 August 2009.
In 2004, Hamilton City Council in 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/science fiction films at the Embassy before he moved back to the UK. This was made ironic when, in June 2010, O'Brien was refused New Zealand citizenship and so could himself not settle in the country. He commented "They build a statue of me and celebrate me as a New Zealander, but I have to go on my knees and do all sorts of things, and I'm probably too old." The government eventually made an exception, and O'Brien became a New Zealand citizen in December 2011.
In September 2007, he reprised his role as the Child Catcher for the final 2 weeks of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's five-year British 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 for An Evening With Richard O'Brien, with presenter Mark Sainsbury and director Fiona Jackson.
In December 2008, Richard O'Brien donated his original script Pig in Boots to the Wireless Theatre Company, who converted it into an audio pantomime. The show was recorded live at the Headliners Comedy Club in front of a studio audience with live FX and music. The production was opened by an original interview with Richard O'Brien. In October 2012, Richard judged "Stage Fright" with the Wireless Theatre Company as part of the London Horror Festival and performed an acoustic set of Rocky Horror songs.
In March 2012, Richard gave a performance of song and autobiographical stories, "It's Party Time with Richard O'Brien" at the Hamilton Founders Theatre to celebrate his 70th birthday. In June 2012, Richard returned to Hamilton, New Zealand to appear on stage as Fagin with the Hamilton Operatic Society's production of Oliver! at the Founders Theatre.
O'Brien has married three times and has three children. In a 2009 interview he spoke about an ongoing struggle to reconcile cultural gender roles and described himself as being transgender or possible third sex. O'Brien stated, "There is a continuum between male and female. Some are hard-wired one way or another, I’m in between." He expounded on this in a 2013 interview where he talked about using oestrogen for the previous decade, and that he views himself as 70% male and 30% female.
In June 2010, the media reported that O'Brien had been denied New Zealand citizenship owing to him being too old under the country's immigration criteria. O'Brien's application appeared to garner public support and the decision was later overturned on appeal. In August 2010, New Zealand's Dominion Post reported that O'Brien would be allowed residency and possibly citizenship as an "exceptional" case. According to the Waikato Times, he was officially registered as a New Zealand citizen on 14 December 2011.