By Neil Genzlinger
New York Times
Anne Rice, the gothic novelist best known for “Interview With the Vampire,” the 1976 book that in 1994 became a popular film starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, died Saturday. She was 80.
Her son, Christopher Rice, wrote on social media that the cause was complications from a stroke. His post did not say where she died.
Anne Rice was a largely unknown writer when she turned a short story she had written in the late 1960s into “Interview With the Vampire,” her first published novel. It features a solitary vampire named Louis who is telling his life story to a reporter, but Rice said the tale was her story as well.
“I really got into the character,” she told The New York Times in 1988. “For the first time, I was able to describe my reality, the dark, gothic influence on my childhood. It’s not fantasy for me. My childhood came to life for me.”
Many critics gave the book short shrift, seeming not to grasp either its tone or its appeal.
“The publicity tells us Rice is ‘a dazzling storyteller,’” Leo Braudy wrote in the Times. “But there is no story here, only a series of sometimes effective but always essentially static tableaus out of Roger Corman films, and some self‐conscious soliloquizing out of Spiderman comics, all wrapped in a ballooning, pompous language.”
The reading public, though, latched on; “Interview With the Vampire” became a bestseller, and Rice found herself with a considerable fan base, which she proceeded to entertain with a series of follow-up novels that became known collectively as the Vampire Chronicles. The books, more than a dozen in all, are widely credited with fueling a revival of interest in all things vampiric, which has been reflected on the big and small screens as well as onstage ever since.
But Rice, who wrote dozens of books in all, was not a one-subject novelist. She wrote free-standing novels like “Cry to Heaven” (1982), about the careers of two castrati. Under the name Anne Rampling, she wrote steamy novels including “Exit to Eden” (1985), which featured sex slaves. And as A.N. Roquelaure, she wrote an erotic series known as the “Sleeping Beauty” novels.
Rice’s fans are nothing if not passionate, willing to immerse themselves in the worlds she created.
“When I go to my signings,” she told ABC News program “Day One” in 1993, “I’m the most boring person there. Everybody else is dripping with velvet and lace, and bringing me dead roses wrapped in leather handcuffs, and I love it.”
Her books resonated not only with fans of gothic romance but also with readers who found a spiritual element in them, some gay and transgender readers who identified with their themes of isolation and alienation, and other groups. Critics may have been dismissive of her writing, but she aspired to more.
“What matters to me is that people know that my books are serious and that they are meant to make a difference and that they are meant to be literature,” she told the Times in 1990. “Whether that’s stupid or pretentious-sounding, I don’t care. They are meant to be in those backpacks on the Berkeley campus, along with Castaneda and Tolstoy and anybody else. When I get dismissed as a ‘pop’ writer I go crazy.”
Howard Allen O’Brien was born Oct. 4, 1941, in New Orleans to Howard and Katherine O’Brien. (Oddly, she had been named after her father; by the time she was in first grade she had adopted “Anne.”) Her father worked for the Postal Service, and her mother was a homemaker.
She grew up in New Orleans, writing plays that she and her three sisters would perform and imagining ghostly figures in the windows of the New Orleans mansions she would stroll past. Movies like “Dracula’s Daughter” (1936) made a vivid impression.
So did her Roman Catholic upbringing and education, full of imagery that played to her already vivid imagination.
“To sit and listen to the miracles that happened to this saint or that saint, or how somebody floated up in the air during prayer, I mean, that was just the normal fare in Catholic school,” she said.
When she was 15 her mother died; she said she believed the cause was alcoholism, something Rice would struggle with later, although in a 2008 video she said she had been sober for 28 years.
By her late teens, she had become disillusioned with the Catholic faith.
“I have a great deal of anger against a church that would teach kids a 7-year-old could burn in hell for French kissing, right alongside a Nazi sadist,” she told the Times in 1988. In the late 1990s, though, she would return to a belief in God after decades of atheism; over the next several years she wrote two novels inspired by the life of Jesus, as well as a memoir, “Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Journey” (2008).
Her father remarried and moved the family to Texas, where in high school Rice first met Stan Rice, a fellow student.
She attended Texas Woman’s University for a time but dropped out and tried living in Haight-Ashbury. She had made an impression on Stan Rice in high school, and he sought her out; they began an intense correspondence, and eventually he proposed by mail.
They married in 1961 and settled in San Francisco, where Stan Rice, who died in 2002, became a poet and teacher. Anne Rice earned a degree at San Francisco State University, though in political science, not literature.
“I was a poor reader,” she wrote in her memoir, “and, in fact, couldn’t major in English because I could not read the amounts of Chaucer or Shakespeare assigned in the classes.” (Later, though, she would earn a master’s degree in creative writing there.)
A pivotal event for the couple occurred in 1972, when their daughter, Michelle, died of leukemia at the age of 5. Rice said the loss left her bereft and directionless for a time, until she tried returning to writing to shake off the melancholy.
“I wanted to write and write and write, and pour out my emotions, and make stories, and create something,” she told ABC in the 1993 interview. “That was my response to seeing something die and something pass out of my hands like that, and seeing this beautiful child die, no matter what I did or anybody else did.”
“Interview With the Vampire” — which includes a young girl who resembles Michelle — was the result.
She followed up that book with “The Vampire Lestat” (1985), “The Queen of the Damned” (1988) and others in the Vampire Chronicles series. The latest, “Blood Communion,” was published in 2018.
A full list of Rice’s survivors was not immediately available.
In the 1993 interview with ABC, Rice said part of her fascination with vampires as a literary device was that they could be seen as a metaphor for the human condition. “Because,” as she put it, “all of us make ruthless compromises in order to live, don’t you think?”
She perhaps had a vampiric side herself.
“I want to be loved and never forgotten,” she said. “I’m really greedy, you know? I want to be immortal.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.