In the course of his long career, Peter Cushing was lucky enough to be part of three wildly popular entertainment institutions: Hammer Films, Doctor Who and Star Wars. Today, we're celebrating the great British actor's centennial with a look at all three.
Hammer Films was the British production company responsible for many of the great low-budget horror and thriller movies of the 1950s, '60s and '70s. Hammer Films covered all the classics – Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy – and often, Cushing was there in a leading role. He played Baron Victor Frankenstein in Hammer's The Curse of Frankenstein, Van Helsing in Dracula, and Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles. In The Mummy he was an unlucky archaeologist, and in Night Creatures he played a scheming reverend. Over and over, Cushing starred in the movies that scared the pants off generations of children.
After playing so many scary characters, Cushing began to grow weary of the reputation he was developing. As he commented at the time, "I do get terribly tired with the neighbourhood kids telling me 'My mum says she wouldn't want to meet you in a dark alley'." To combat the stereotype, he took on one of the most beloved roles of British pop culture – he became Doctor Who. As he didn't appear in the TV series, he wasn't one of the eleven numbered Doctors, but he did play the Doctor in two films: 1965's Dr. Who and the Daleks and 1966's Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2159 A.D. His kindly Doctor helped give the actor a brand new image.
In 1976 Cushing went back to playing a bad guy in one of the biggest movie franchises of all time: Star Wars. His Grand Moff Tarkin was truly sinister, in league with Darth Vader against the scrappy heroes of the Rebel Alliance.
Cushing died of prostate cancer Aug. 11, 1994, at the age of 81. Whether he was playing the characters we loved, or the ones we loved to hate, we always loved him.
Written by Linnea Crowther