Peter Cushing, 81; Starred in Classic Horror Movies


Peter Cushing, the refined British actor who appeared with Sir Laurence Olivier in “Hamlet” but was better known around the world as Dr. Frankenstein in classic Gothic horror films, died Thursday of cancer in Canterbury, England. He was 81.

“He was a dear, sweet, funny man, totally unlike the characters he played. He died with his boots on,” said Los Angeles producer Ted Newsom, for whom Cushing narrated a documentary six weeks ago titled “Flesh and Blood--Hammer Heritage of Horror.”

Cushing found regular work as a young actor in films ranging widely from “The Man in the Iron Mask” to Laurel and Hardy’s “A Chump at Oxford” to Olivier’s 1948 version of “Hamlet.”


But the gaunt Cushing found his true metier in the 1950s with Great Britain’s Hammer Studios, playing the imposing Baron Frankenstein to Christopher Lee’s monster.

Among Cushing’s bloodcurdling films as the good doctor were “Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell,” “Frankenstein Created Woman,” “The Revenge of Frankenstein,” “The Evil of Frankenstein” and “Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed!”

“I loved playing Frankenstein,” Cushing told The Times in 1982. “We were fantasy figures, weren’t we?”

The actor described his singular horror background in two books, “Past Forgetting: Memoirs of the Hammer Years” in 1988, and “An Autobiography” in 1986.

Cushing teamed up with Lee in other horror movies such as “Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors” and as Dr. Van Helsing opposite Lee’s Count Dracula in “Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride.”

The stately Cushing took his place in a long line of actors portraying the singular sleuth Sherlock Holmes in the 1959 film “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” He also took on the role for a British television series.

Younger viewers may remember the versatile character actor as Grand Moff Tarkin in the 1977 blockbuster “Star Wars.”

Occasionally chafing at being stereotyped in horror roles, Cushing said pragmatically: “I don’t have any regrets. Things like Frankenstein and Dracula were such big successes and they obviously led to a lot of sequels.”

Cushing was born May 26, 1913, in Kenley, England. He worked as a clerk in a surveyor’s office before winning a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

He made his stage debut in Worthing, England, in 1935 as Capt. Randall in “The Middle Watch,” and his Broadway debut six years later as Percival in “The Seventh Trumpet.” He also toured Australia and New Zealand with Olivier and his Old Vic Company.

In addition to theater and films, Cushing won praise for his television appearances, notably in the starring role as Winston Smith in George Orwell’s “1984,” in the title role of “Dr. Who,” as Dr. Manette in “A Tale of Two Cities” and as professor Charles Copeland in “Helen Keller: The Miracle Continues.”

His work was recognized by Queen Elizabeth in 1989, when she named Cushing an officer in the Order of the British Empire.

Cushing married actress Helen Beck in 1943. She died in 1971.