Inspired by the character of her husband and the death of her young daughter, Anne Rice injected new blood into the vampire myth and went on to become one of the best-selling authors of the 20th century.
Vampires had been sexy and glamorous previously, but Rice made them playful too, without making them comic. They were variously amoral characters who loved the lifestyle or guilt-ridden outcasts driven by compulsion, figures with which her readers might empathise.
Beginning with Interview with the Vampire, which appeared in 1976 – four years after her daughter’s death – Rice wrote 37 novels and sold more than 150 million copies.
Interview with the Vampire was turned into a hit film in 1994. Christian Slater played the journalist interviewing Brad Pitt’s Louis, who claims to have been turned into a vampire two centuries earlier by the voracious, hedonistic, bisexual vampire Lestat, who was played by Tom Cruise – despite vigorous objections by Rice. “That Tom did make Lestat work was something I could not see in a crystal ball,” Rice said.
Rice did, however, seemingly foresee the illness and death of her own daughter in a dream – “a horrible, horrible dream… a prophetic dream of my daughter dying of something wrong with her blood”. Soon afterwards Michele was diagnosed with leukaemia and she died before her sixth birthday.
Devastated, Rice sought some sort of relief through heavy bouts of drinking and writing, returning to a short story on which she had been working, adding the anti-hero Lestat, based on her husband Stan Rice, and a child vampire, inspired by Michele.
Rice was a complex individual, who would turn up for personal appearances in a coffin. She also wrote erotic fiction, and perhaps more surprisingly, Christian fiction – her later Life of Christ novels.
One of four girls, Rice was born in 1941 in New Orleans, a gloriously Gothic setting that would figure prominently in her fiction. She started life as Howard Allen Frances O’Brien. Her parents named her Howard because her mother thought that having a male name would give her an advantage in life. Howard was not so sure and insisted on being called Anne when she went to school. She was immersed in the rituals of Roman Catholicism as a child, became an atheist as a young adult and detailed her return to the Roman Catholic church in the memoir Called Out of Darkness in 2008, only to “quit Christianity” again a few years later.
Her father was an executive with the US Postal Service. Her mother, who was alcoholic, died when Rice was 15. She was sent to a “medieval” convent school, which she hated. The family subsequently moved to Texas, where she met and married Stan Rice. She had just turned 20, he was 18.
They settled in California, where Rice studied Political Science and Creative Writing at San Francisco State University and her husband taught English Literature. He was also a noted poet and painter. They moved back to New Orleans in the 1980s.
Interview with the Vampire marked a strikingly fresh approach to the subject of vampires. The character Louis was a plantation owner in the 18th century. Bereft at the death of his brother, he wanted to follow him to the grave, only to be turned into a vampire by Lestat – because Lestat wants company. Louis’s slave plantation is a ready source of fresh meat for Lestat, though Louis is revolted by the idea of feeding on humans and instead drinks the blood of animals, and he is horrified when Lestat turns the child Claudia into a vampire, so they can have a daughter.
Claudia matures into a woman, but remains trapped in the physical body of a young girl and she and Louis determine to end Letstat.
The book prompted excitement even before publication. And although it was criticised for its mix of vampire legend and erotica, it found an eager public. It would ultimately spark a revival in vampire literature, television and film, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight and True Blood.
Interview with the Vampire was the first of what became known as The Vampire Chronicles, a series of 13 novels, though almost ten years passed between its publication and that of the second book, The Vampire Lestat, in 1985.
Interview with the Vampire was followed by the historical novel The Feast of All Saints and the start of the Sleeping Beauty series of erotic novels, including The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty and Beauty’s Punishment.
Paramount had acquired the film rights to Interview with the Vampire before publication, but it took almost 20 years to get it turned into a film and Anne Rice felt the producers were getting desperate when they suggested, as Lestat, Tom Cruise, the wholesome, toothsome Brat Packer who scored with Top Gun and Rain Man. As a last resort Rice suggested Pitt and Cruise just switch roles.
But Cruise tapped into that manic otherness that the public would later see in interviews, including the one when he leapt up onto the couch like a monkey in the middle of an interview with Oprah Winfrey, while declaring he was in love.
Rice phoned him to admit she had been wrong. “From the moment he appeared, Tom was Lestat for me,” she said. The film also gave Kirsten Dunst her first major film role, as Claudia.
The third book in the Chronicles, The Queen of the Damned, appeared in 1988 and was also turned into a film. Rice later wrote that one of her themes was “how one suffers as an outcast, how one is shut out of various levels of meaning and ultimately out of human life itself”.
Rice’s son Christopher Rice and her sister, the late Alice Borchardt, also became novelists. Stan Rice died in 2002. They are survived by Christopher.
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