An Ode to Tim Curry
on this, his 75th birthday.
One of my favourite pastimes is deliberately winding up my boyfriend. There are any number of hills he feels duty bound to die on, correct scone assembly being one.* Another is that Muppets Christmas Carol is the best muppets movie, an assertion which is patently incorrect.
Why not let everyone like what they like, I hear you ask? Why pointlessly stratify pop culture properties into a hierarchy? Because I enjoy provoking the great beast of faux-outrage. Also, because Muppets Treasure Island is the better film. Because any film with Tim Curry in it is a better film.
I am a child of the 90’s. As such, Muppets Treasure Island was my gateway drug into the oeuvre of Tim Curry. Thankfully, it’s a blindingly good film with a phenomenal score composed by Hans Zimmer. Yes, you read that correctly. The man who went on to compose The Pirates of the Caribbean got to do a first nautical pass on Muppets Treasure Island.
With a tasteful smoky eye, peg leg and toothy grin, Tim Curry threw himself into the deep end without irony or self reproach playing opposite a bunch of puppets and an equally wooden young Kevin Bishop. But Tim Curry is a truly gifted actor and this was not his first time donning a corsair’s crown. He once played The Pirate King in a 1982 Drury Lane production of the Pirates of Penzance. Both performances are redolent with camp and swagger.
This is not unique. Take the athletic glee with which he legs his way around the set of Clue, the 1985 film based on the murder mystery board game. Curry was the director’s third choice to play Wadsworth the butler, behind an actor who died before filming and Rowan Atkinson. Nevertheless, it is a bravura performance with the stamina and lung capacity required of a marathon runner.
Sir Tim is not what you would call a subtle actor. His performances are often stratospheric in size, all eye rolls and genteel British sneer. But he avoids the pitfall of hamminess because somehow, against all odds, he is able to tap into a true well of emotion. And he’s so good at being bad. Whether it’s as Cardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeers, Pennywise the Clown in IT or as The Concierge from Home Alone 2, he simply steals the show.
I’ve alluded to his musical theatre prowess already. In fact, that was his entree into the industry. His first professional production was Hair, whose director went on to make The Rocky Horror Picture Show and made history. Arguably, the world wouldn’t have The Worst Witch if Richard O’Brien hadn’t taken a punt on Tim, and that is a world in which I do not wish to live.
He’s not what you would call ‘a good singer’ but what he lacks in the pipes department, he makes up in attitude and kick ass diction. Did I mention he released a rock album? This man is just determined to have a good time and it’s infectious.
His flamboyance is at once camp and hyper masculine. It just gives a huge middle finger to the dudeliness of late 20th century mainstream pop culture and why his work, particularly with the midnight movies of Rocky Horror, continues to inspire a cult following.
But all that physical vivacity came to an end when Curry suffered a stroke in 2012, leaving him wheelchair bound. Having voiced the baddie in FernGully: The Last Rainforest and Nigel in The Wild Thornberrys, his illness hasn’t stopped him from continuing an already prolific voiceover career. But there will most likely be no more live action films starring Tim Curry. Perhaps that’s why I fight for him tooth and nail and why I use any occasion to bring the gems of his back catalogue to public awareness.
So please let us all raise a glass to Sir Tim. Tonight in tribute to his 75th birthday, join me in selecting any Tim Curry vehicle, be it a classic or a deep cut, and marvel in how this man’s talent has made the world a better place. I know I will.
*Jam first. If you disagree, he will see you on the duelling ground with pistols at dawn.