- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Anne Rice, the famed New Orleans author whose sensational debut novel, Interview With the Vampire, sent her down a supernatural path writing about blood-suckers, witches and werewolves, died of complications from a stroke on Saturday. She was 80.
Rice’s son, Christopher Rice, announced the news on social media. “She left us almost 19 years to the day my father, her husband Stan, died,” he wrote. “The immensity of our family’s grief cannot be overstated.”
The author, who resided in Rancho Mirage, California, was surrounded by her family. “In her final hours, I sat beside her hospital bed in awe of her accomplishments and her courage, awash in memories of a life that took us from the fog laced hills of the San Francisco Bay Area to the magical streets of New Orleans to the twinkling vistas of Southern California,” he added. “As she kissed Anne goodbye, her younger sister Karen said, ‘What a ride you took us on, kid.’ I think we can all agree.”
Rice’s nearly 40 novels published over a half-century sold some 135 million copies, placing her among the most popular fantasy writers of all time.
Rice adapted her first book into the 1994 Warner Bros. movie starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, and six of her other novels, including Exit to Eden and Queen of the Damned, were turned into movies and/or telefilms as well.
She considered the struggles of outsiders a throughline in her work, which in addition to her Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witches novels included the erotic Sleeping Beauty series (written under the nom de plume A.N. Roquelaure) and, on the other end of the spectrum, her deeply religious Christ the Lord books.
Rice also used the pen name Anne Rampling for 1985’s Exit to Eden and 1986’s Belinda. That was in tribute to British actress Charlotte Rampling, whose performance she loved in the erotic 1974 film The Night Porter.
Interview With the Vampire, first published in 1976, tells the life story of the vampires Louis (Pitt in the movie) and his sire Lestat (Cruise), hopping on a 200-year journey through history that begins in a Louisiana slave plantation and moves to Rice’s native New Orleans, France and Eastern Europe.
With the plot including two male vampires raising a vampire child, the book subtly raises themes that were ahead of their time in mainstream literature. Rice credited the mythical quality of the book with allowing her to see deeper truths about life: “For some reason, when I work with these comic-book vampire characters, these fantasy characters, I can see reality. I can touch reality,” she said.
New Orleans’ Gothic architecture — in particular her antebellum Garden District home — and vibrant culture served as an inspiration, with her hometown also the setting for her other major series, The Mayfair Witches.
Its first book, 1990’s The Witching Hour, centers on a neurosurgeon named Rowan Mayfair who discovers her clan’s Southern roots and the magical legacy of her female ancestors. The trilogy spans the family’s 400-year history and examines the supernatural nemesis that plagues them.
Anne Rice was born Howard Allen Frances O’Brien in New Orleans on Oct. 4, 1941. She was named for her father, it was said, because her mother, Katherine, thought that the unusual name would help a girl get ahead in life.
Rice grew up bashful of her first name, however, and when asked to introduce herself to a teacher on the first day of school, she replied on impulse that she was Anne. The name stuck, and she would make it legal.
She was the second of four girls (older sister Alice Borchardt also became a novelist known for her Legends of the Wolves trilogy, and sister Tamara Tinker became a poet). Rice’s dad was a World War II Navy veteran who worked for the Postal Service; her mom died as a result of alcoholism when Rice was still a teenager.
“My mother believed we could accomplish great things,” she told Alice Cooper in a 2016 interview in Billboard. “She told us stories of the Brontës and how they’d written under male names in order to be accepted by the literati; she filled my head with tales of Dickens and all he achieved in terms of social justice through his novels. My mother totally believed in me, and though she died when I was 14, I took her confidence and faith in me to heart and have all of my life.”
Rice’s father remarried in 1957 and moved the family to a suburb of Dallas, where Rice graduated from Richardson High School. She attended Texas Woman’s University for a year and then North Texas State College before dropping out and moving to San Francisco, where she worked as an insurance claims adjuster.
From California, she reconnected with high school sweetheart Stan Rice, who proposed to her by letter. They married in 1961 and settled in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. After several false starts, she completed her bachelor’s degree in political science in 1964, then earned a master’s in creative writing from San Francisco State.
The couple had a daughter, Michele, in 1966, but she was diagnosed with leukemia and died at age 5. In the painful aftermath, Rice spent much of her time drinking and writing and was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.
Michele’s passing “had a devastating effect,” she told Playboy in 1993. “There’s a period after a death like that when you don’t think the lights will ever go back on. I remember even in the immediate weeks after her death it was hard for me to swallow food.”
It was then that she turned a short story she’d written into the novel Interview With the Vampire. “I was just a drunk, hysterical person with no job, no identity, no nothing,” she said. “There was a two-year period after her death when I just drank a lot and wrote a lot, like crazy. Then I sort of came out of it and wrote Interview With the Vampire. My husband had told me, ‘I really believe in your writing.’ … I’ve always felt that was one of the greatest things he ever did for me, other than being his wonderful self.”
Although the novel features a 6-year-old who is killed and turned into an immortal, Rice said she never consciously connected Vampire‘s plot to Michele’s death (neither did Stan, a poet and painter). “When I look back on it, I think, ‘How in the world could I have been so detached?’ But I really didn’t think of that as being about my life.”
After being rejected by numerous publishers, Rice met agent Phyllis Seidel at a writers’ conference, and she helped her connect with Alfred K. Knopf. The firm paid an unusually high advance for a new writer at the time — $12,000 — and the novel was published in 1976. The investment paid off, with the first book selling some 8 million copies and the 12-book series eventually topping 80 million in sales.
Rice personally adapted the story into the screenplay for the film; a critical and commercial success, it grossed $223.7 million worldwide (nearly $400 million today).
Controversy during the making of the Neil Jordan-directed movie centered on Rice’s disapproval of the casting of Cruise as the archetypal vampire Lestat, but she later told Billboard, “I thought [Cruise] did a magnificent job. As soon as I finished watching the movie on videotape in my home [before its release], I called the great producer David Geffen at home in California and told him I loved the movie, loved what Tom had achieved, loved all of it. All my early fears were meaningless in light of Tom’s passionate portrayal.”
In addition to Pitt and Cruise, the film features Kirsten Dunst as Claudia, the child vampire; Antonio Banderas as Armand, a 400-year-old vampire; Thandiwe Newton as Yvette, a slave; and Christian Slater as the journalist interviewing Louis. (River Phoenix was originally cast in that role but died before he began filming; Slater donated his salary to charity in Phoenix’s honor.)
Queen of the Damned, the third novel in the Vampire Chronicles series, also received the movie treatment with a 2002 film starring Aaliyah in her final role before her death in an August 2001 plane crash. The singer-actress portrayed Akasha, the 6,000-year-old mother of all vampires, with Stuart Townsend as Lestat, who becomes a rock star in the modern-day storyline. The film grossed $45.5 million worldwide.
In 1978, the Rices had a second child, Christopher, who eventually followed in his mother’s footsteps as an author of supernatural thrillers and erotic romance. Rice swore off drinking when her son was born.
After her first book, Rice wrote a pair of historical novels — 1979’s The Feast of All Saints and 1982’s Cry to Heaven — which were popular but not at the level of Interview. She then authored the first three of her erotic novels (a feminist and a strong opponent of censorship, she told Playboy, “I’m fascinated by sadomasochism”) before returning to her original success with 1985’s The Vampire Lestat.
Stan retired as chair of the creative writing department at San Francisco State, and in 1988 the family moved to New Orleans, purchasing a mansion in the Garden District that served as the setting for The Witching Hour. The couple went on to buy and renovate numerous properties in the city, including St. Elizabeth’s Orphanage and Rice’s childhood home.
While Vampire Chronicles paved the way for later popular vampire fiction, Rice disparaged Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, saying, “Lestat and Louie feel sorry for vampires that sparkle in the sun. They would never hurt immortals who choose to spend eternity going to high school over and over again in a small town — any more than they would hurt the physically disabled or the mentally challenged.” Amid backlash, she later clarified that the statement was a joke.
Rice fell into a diabetic coma in 1998, among the several health setbacks she experienced in the late 1990s and 2000s. Afterward, she lost about 100 pounds and had gastric bypass surgery.
Rice’s husband died in 2002 after complications from a brain tumor. In the following years, she sold her New Orleans properties and decamped to California.
She publicly announced her return to the Roman Catholicism of her youth and wrote religious novels including 2005’s Christ Our Lord: Out of Egypt. It was adapted into film as The Young Messiah (2016), which earned only $7 million at the box office.
She wrote in THR at the time of the film’s release, “My deep devotion to Jesus prompted me to try to contribute to the responsible fiction tradition with regard to Him. I admired Lloyd Douglas’ The Robe and Lew Wallace’s Ben Hur but sought to do something completely original.”
In 2010, Rice announced that she was leaving all organized religion, citing disagreements with church doctrines and social teachings. She returned to writing about the supernatural, notably 2012’s The Wolf Gift and 2013’s The Wolves of Midwinter, whose protagonist, Reuben, becomes a werewolf.
Rice will be interred in the family’s mausoleum at Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans in a private ceremony. A public celebration of life will take place next year in New Orleans.
Survivors include her son.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day
Santa Barbara International Film Festival
super bowl LVII