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Anthony Perkins, 60, Dies; Star of 'Psycho' Had AIDS

September 13, 1992|DAVID FERRELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Anthony Perkins, the haunting, lanky character actor who achieved his greatest fame as deranged motel keeper Norman Bates in the classic Hitchcock thriller "Psycho," died Saturday of complications of AIDS, a family spokeswoman said.

Perkins, 60, died peacefully in his Hollywood home in the company of his wife, Berry Berenson Perkins, and two sons, Osgood, 18, and Elvis, 16, according to spokeswoman Leslee Dart. Several of the actor's close friends also were present, having gathered during the week as his condition worsened, Dart said.

However, the spokeswoman said she was unaware of how long Perkins had been ill or how he contracted the AIDS virus.

Long regarded as a private, even mysterious figure in Hollywood, Perkins managed to keep his illness a secret even to the end, addressing it only in a personal statement prepared shortly before his death.

Those remarks, read Saturday by Dart, hinted at Perkins' disenchantment with the entertainment world.

"I chose not to go public about (having AIDS) because, to misquote 'Casablanca,' 'I'm not much at being noble,' but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of one old actor don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world," Perkins said.

Elaborating on his experiences with AIDS, he added: "There are many who believe that this disease is God's vengeance, but I believe it was sent to teach people how to love and understand and have compassion for each other.

"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."

The product of a tormented childhood, Perkins' film career was most noted for roles that brought out the darker sides of human nature, in particular the four "Psycho" films. In those films, as in life, Perkins was tense, repressed, a man of few words.

"Anthony Perkins' films aren't just dark," a Times writer once wrote. "They're inky black. . . . To know (his characters) is to loathe them."

Later in his life, Perkins talked candidly about the psychological torment he suffered as the only child of 1930s stage and film star Osgood Perkins.

During his early years, his father was frequently gone, traveling with theater productions or filming in Hollywood. Perkins, who remained at home in Manhattan, grew "abnormally" attached to his mother, Janet, and became "jealous" whenever his father returned, he told People magazine .

He wished his father would die--and suddenly, when Perkins was 5, his father did die, of a heart attack, saddling the child with a crushing guilt, which poisoned his relationship with his mother.

"I assumed that my wanting (my father) to be dead had actually killed him," Perkins told writer Brad Darrach in 1983. "I prayed and prayed for my father to come back. I remember long nights of crying in bed. For years, I nursed the hope that he wasn't really dead. He became a mythic being to me, to be dreaded and appeased."

His mother--who had a habit of touching him in seemingly erotic ways--became a source of dread to him, in part because of his guilt over his father's death, he said.

Perkins' film career began in 1953, when he appeared with Spencer Tracy, Teresa Wright and Jean Simmons in "The Actress." He made his Broadway stage debut in the 1954 hit, "Tea and Sympathy," in which he won praise for his portrayal of a sensitive adolescent.

The high point of his career came in 1960, when his agent told him of the fateful call from Alfred Hitchcock, who was then making the first--and most famous--of the "Psycho" films. The agent told Perkins, "Hitchcock wants you in his new picture," Perkins recalled in a 1990 interview, one of his last. "In those days," Perkins said, "that's all Hitchcock had to say."

Perkins drew raves for the role, in which, in one classic scene, his character stabbed to death actress Janet Leigh in a shower scene.

Privately, Perkins' emotional troubles continued to plague him. In a later interview, he described how fame brought him the attentions of numerous leading women, whose advances left him "shook up" and scared.

Once in Paris, for example, Brigitte Bardot invited him to her penthouse, making clear her intentions, Perkins said. "Sooner than get close to her," he said, "I would have crashed through the window and fallen to the pavement 10 stories below."

He said he had a homosexual encounter, but described "that kind of sex" as "unsatisfying." He went through intensive psychotherapy and, at age 39, had his first close relationship with a woman.

Two years later, at 41, Perkins married his wife, Berry, then 25, and settled down. Though friends predicted the 1973 marriage would not last long, it became the primary steadying influence on him.

"He's precise and intense," Berry once said. "I'm much calmer--things don't bother me. There's a balance that keeps us together."

Life during his marriage became "much more structured and ordinary," he told The Times in 1990 during an interview in which he appeared trim and remarkably young, not so different than the image of Norman Bates from the later films.

Perkins said married life made him "not nearly so grasping and ambitious. Not so paranoid. Not so fearful."

Dart, the family spokeswoman, said Perkins' wife and two sons were tested for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and found to be negative. In lieu of flowers, the family requested that donations be made to Project Angel Food, an AIDS help organization, in Los Angeles.

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