Best known for playing Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and its three sequels.
Fear Strikes Out
The Lonely Man
The Tin Star
This Angry Age
Desire Under the Elms
On the Beach
Five Miles to Midnight
The Sword and the Balance
The Ravishing Idiot
The Fool Killer
Is Paris Burning?
The Champagne Murders
Someone Behind the Door
Ten Days’ Wonder
Play It as It Lays
The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean
Murder on the Orient Express
Remember My Name
North Sea Hijack
Twice a Woman
The Black Hole
Crimes of Passion
Edge of Sanity
A Demon in My View
The Naked Target
I have learned more about love, selflessness and human understanding from the people I have met in this great adventure in the world of AIDS than I ever did in the cutthroat, competitive world in which I spent my life. ~ Anthony Perkins
Anthony Perkins was born on April 4, 1932, in New York City, son of stage and film actor Osgood Perkins and his wife, Janet Esselstyn (née Rane). He was five when his father died. He attended Brooks School, Browne & Nichols School, Columbia University and Rollins College, having moved to Boston in 1942.
Following this, he released three pop music albums in 1957 and 1958 on Epic and RCA Victor as “Tony Perkins”. His single “Moon-Light Swim” was a hit in the United States, peaking at number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1957. He showcased his musical talents in The Matchmaker (1958) with Shirley Booth and Shirley MacLaine.
A life member of the Actors Studio, Perkins also acted in theater. In 1958, he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his performance in Look Homeward, Angel on Broadway. He played the role of Eugene Gant.
Perkins in youth had a boyish, earnest quality, reminiscent of the young James Stewart, which Alfred Hitchcock exploited and subverted when the actor starred as Norman Bates in the 1960 film Psycho. The film was a critical and commercial success, and gained Perkins international fame for his performance as the homicidal owner of the Bates Motel. Perkins’ performance gained him the Best Actor Award from the International Board of Motion Picture Reviewers. The role and its multiple sequels affected the remainder of his career.
In 1961, Perkins received considerable critical acclaim for his performance in the film Goodbye Again, opposite Ingrid Bergman, a performance which won him the Best Actor Award at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival.
After that came a successful career in Europe, including the role of Joseph K. in Orson Welles’ 1962 adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial (1962). In 1964 he starred in Une ravissante idiote. Upon returning to America, he took the role of a disturbed young murderer in Pretty Poison (1968) opposite Tuesday Weld. He also played Chaplain Tappman in Catch-22 (1970). Perkins co-wrote, with composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, the screenplay for the 1973 film The Last of Sheila, for which they received a 1974 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Motion Picture Screenplay.
In 1972, he appeared in Play It as It Lays and The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean. Perkins was one of the many stars featured in the 1974 hit Murder on the Orient Express. He also hosted television’s Saturday Night Live in 1976 and was featured in the box office-smash and space opus, Walt Disney’s The Black Hole, in 1979.
His Broadway credits also included the 1967 Neil Simon comedy The Star-Spangled Girl, the Frank Loesser musical Greenwillow (1960), for which he was nominated for another Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, Peter Shaffer’s 1974 play Equus (where he was a replacement in the leading role originally played by Anthony Hopkins), and Bernard Slade’s 1979 play Romantic Comedy.
Perkins reprised the role of Norman Bates in three sequels to Psycho. The first, Psycho II (1983), was a box office success 23 year after the original film. He then starred in and directed Psycho III (for which he was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Actor) in 1986, but refused to reprise his role as Bates in a 1987 failed television pilot Bates Motel, famously boycotting that project in a very ardent, and well-received public campaign. He did play Bates in the following made-for-cable film Psycho IV: The Beginning in 1990, over which he had much creative control, although he was turned down for director. He directed a comedy horror film in 1988 called Lucky Stiff.
In 1991, Perkins was honored with the Donostia Lifetime Achievement Award at the San Sebastián International Film Festival.
Although he was fighting AIDS, he appeared in eight television productions between 1990 and 1992, including Daughter of Darkness (1990) and The Naked Target (1992). He made his final appearance in In the Deep Woods (1992) with Rosanna Arquette. He had agreed to provide the voice for the role of the dentist, Dr. Wolfe, in The Simpsons episode “Last Exit to Springfield” but died before the part could be recorded. In the end, Simpsons regular Hank Azaria voiced the character.
Perkins was an extremely shy person, especially in the company of women. According to the posthumous biography Split Image by Charles Winecoff, he had exclusively same-sex relationships until his late 30s.
He met photographer Berinthia “Berry” Berenson, the younger sister of actress and model Marisa Berenson, at a party in New York City in 1972. They married when he was age 41, on August 9, 1973 and had two sons: actor Oz Perkins (b. February 2, 1974), and musician Elvis Perkins (b. February 9, 1976).
Diagnosed with HIV during the filming of Psycho IV, Perkins died at his Los Angeles home on September 12, 1992, from AIDS-related pneumonia at age 60. His urn, inscribed “Don’t Fence Me In,” is in an altar by a bench on the terrace of his former home in the Hollywood Hills. His wife died nine years later, in the September 11 attacks.