He made his feature film debut in “The Actress” (1953), co-starring with Jean Simmons and Spencer Tracy, and went on to do television and stage work, earning praise for his Broadway debut in 1954’s “Tea and Sympathy”. Perkins began to establish himself as a singer, as well.
In addition to starring in the westerns “The Tin Star” with Henry Fonda and “The Lonely Man” with Jack Palance in 1957, Perkins garnered acclaim as a leading man in the film “Fear Strikes Out”. Here Perkins played ‘Jimmy Piersall’, a famed baseball player who suffers a devastating emotional breakdown.
He released three 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 got to showcase his musical talents on film 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” (1957-59) on Broadway. He played the role of ‘Eugene Gant’. In film, he appeared in “This Angry Age” (1958) for Columbia and “Desire Under the Elms” (1958) for Paramount, lusting after Sophia Loren.
Perkins was also cast as Audrey Hepburn’s love interest in “Green Mansions” (1959). He was a doomed lover in “On the Beach” (1959) and also played a college basketball champion in “Tall Story” (1960), best remembered for being Jane Fonda’s film debut. On Broadway, he starred in the Frank Loesser musical “Greenwillow” (1960), for which he was nominated for another Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.
In 1960, he starred in what would become one of the most talked about horror films in cinematic history — “Psycho”, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Co-starring with Janet Leigh and Vera Miles in the film, Perkins played ‘Norman Bates’, a seemingly helpful innkeeper with a sinister, sociopathic secret.
Perkins had a boyish, earnest quality which Alfred Hitchcock exploited and subverted. 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.
In 1961, Perkins again received considerable critical acclaim for his performance in the film “Goodbye Again”, shot in Paris opposite Ingrid Bergman, a performance which won him the Best Actor Award at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival. The film was a notable success in France but not the US.
He appeared in a short-lived Broadway play “Harold” (1962) then made a series of films in Europe: “Phaedra” (1962), shot in Greece with Melina Mercouri and directed by Jules Dassin; “Five Miles to Midnight” (1962) with Sophia Loren; Orson Welles’ 1962 adaptation of “Kafka’s The Trial” (1962), shot in Yugoslavia; “Le glaive et la balance” (1963), shot in France; “Une ravissante idiote” (1964) with Brigitte Bardot. He made a film in Mexico, “The Fool Killer” (1965), then returned to France to make a cameo in “Is Paris Burning?” (1966).
For American television, he appeared in “Evening Primrose” (1966). He then went to Broadway to appear in a play by Neil Simon, “The Star Spangled Girl” (1966-67). Perkins starred in another French film, “The Champagne Murders” (1967) for Claude Chabrol, then made his first Hollywood movie since “Psycho”, “Pretty Poison” (1968) with Tuesday Weld. The film was not a box office success but has become a cult favourite.
Perkins moved into supporting roles in Hollywood-feature films, playing ‘Chaplain Tappman’ in “Catch-22” (1970) and appearing in “WUSA” (1970). Off Broadway, he appeared in and directed “Steambath” (1970). He had the lead in a TV movie, “How Awful About Allan” (1970) and supported Charles Bronson in the French movie, “Someone Behind the Door” (1971). He starred in Chabrol’s “Ten Days’ Wonder” (1971). Perkins was reunited with Tuesday Weld when he supported her in “Play It As It Lays” (1972). He was also in “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” (1972).
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. Perkins was one of the many stars featured in the 1974 hit “Murder on the Orient Express”. He co-starred with Beau Bridges in “Lovin’ Molly” (1974). He enjoyed success on Broadway in Peter Shaffer’s 1974 play “Equus” (where he was a replacement in the leading role originally played by Anthony Hopkins). Off Broadway he directed “The Wager” (1974).
Perkins supported Diana Ross in “Mahogany” (1975) and hosted television’s “Saturday Night Live” in 1976. He co-starred with Geraldine Chaplin in “Remember My Name” (1978) and had some good roles on TV, playing Mary Tyler Moore’s husband in “First, You Cry” (1978) and as ‘Javert’ in “Les Misérables” (1978). He was featured in Walt Disney’s “The Black Hole”, in 1979. He had another Broadway success with Bernard Slade’s 1979 play “Romantic Comedy”, which ran for 396 performances.
Perkins played a villain in “North Sea Hijack “(1980) and one of many names in “Winter Kills” (1980). He also starred in the 1980 Canadian film “Deadly Companion”. Perkins reprised the role of ‘Norman Bates’ in three sequels to Psycho. The first, “Psycho II” (1983), was a box-office success twenty-three years after the original film. He then went to Australia to appear in For the “Term of His Natural Life” (1983). “After The Glory Boys” (1984) for British television, Perkins made “Crimes of Passion” (1984) for Ken Russell
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 failed, 1987 television pilot, “Bates Motel”, famously boycotting that project in a very ardent, and well-received, oppositional, public campaign. Perkins had supporting roles in “Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story” (1987), and “Destroyer” (1988). He directed but did not appear in “Lucky Stiff” (1988).
Perkins starred in some additional horror films, “Edge of Sanity” (1989), “Daughter of Darkness” (1990), and “I’m Dangerous Tonight” (1990). He played ‘Norman Bates’ again in the made-for-cable film “Psycho IV: The Beginning” in 1990, over which he had much creative control, although he was turned down for director.
Perkins has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, an honour he received for his influential and exceptional contributions to the motion–picture industry. It is located at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. 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 “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, the character was voiced by Simpsons regular Hank Azaria.
At the time, being openly gay or bisexual in Hollywood was considered unacceptable, especially with vicious tabloids, trying to out celebrities for what was seen as a shameful preference. Obviously, the knowledge of his sexuality could have had severe consequences on his career, and given that Perkins was an intensely private figure, he made sure to hide his sexuality as much as possible.
When Anthony shot to fame, he became highly sought after by some of the leading starlets of the time including Brigitte Bardot, Ava Gardner, Jane Fonda and Sofia Loren. In the book “Anthony Perkins: A Haunted Life”, it states that while struggling with his sexuality, Perkins underwent psychotherapy to “‘cure’ his homosexuality”.
Perkins reportedly had his first heterosexual experience at age 39 with actress Victoria Principal on location filming “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” in 1971. 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 aged 41, on August 9, 1973 and had two sons: actor Oz Perkins (b. February 2, 1974), and musician Elvis Perkins (b. February 9, 1976).
Every indication points to their marriage having been a happy and mutually fulfilling one.About her husband, Berenson said: “We had a very satisfying life together. It was a wonderful love affair. If anything else was happening, I certainly didn’t know about it, and I don’t think he intended to hurt me in any way.”
During 1990, he got a blood sample taken due to a palsy on the side of his face. The National Enquirer illegally had Perkins’ blood sample tested for the AIDS virus, and found out that it was positive. Later that year, the National Enquirer wrote a story about his battle with AIDS, but the ironic thing was that he only found out that he was HIV positive from this article.
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. Sadly Berenson was killed aboard American Airlines flight 11, when the plane was hijacked and flew into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
After Perkins was diagnosed with HIV, though he kept the news secret, he worked with Berenson for Project Angel Food, an organization that provides meals for individuals who are homebound due to HIV.
Talking about his life with Aids, Perkins was quoted saying: