Famed novelist Anne Rice passed away Saturday at the age of 80. While she will first and foremost be remembered as an iconic writer of gothic horror — most notably for her Vampire Chronicles series — her advocacy for LGBTQ rights and steadfast support of her enthusiastic, gay fan base would become an essential part of her legacy.
Her son, Christopher Rice, who is gay and is himself an accomplished writer, shared the news of his mother’s passing on her Facebook page.
“The immensity of our family’s grief cannot be overstated. As my mother, her support for me was unconditional — she taught me to embrace my dreams, reject conformity and challenge the dark voices of fear and self-doubt,” he wrote. “As a writer, she taught me to defy genre boundaries and surrender to my obsessive passions.”
'I have a gay sensibility'
Rice wrote the first and most famous book in the Vampire Chronicles series, “Interview With the Vampire,” in 1976. At the time, she was mourning the loss of her 5-year-old daughter, Michele, one of her two children with poet Stan Rice.
While the book failed to impress critics, it became an immediate commercial success, in large part because of its popularity among gay readers. The novel centers on vampires Louis and Lestat. Louis tells a young reporter, whom he meets in a dark San Francisco bar, about immortal life alongside his sinister and seductive maker, Lestat. And he relates how the two took in a young child, Claudia, while living in New Orleans and proceeded to parent her over decades as she remained physically frozen in time.
The domestic plotline and erotic dialogue made the novel ripe for queer readings, which Rice would confirm over the years. In a 2012 interview, she called Louis and Lestat the “first vampire same-sex parents.” And she later said that Claudia was likely unconsciously inspired by her daughter, while she and Stan were the inspirations for her vampire fathers.
In an interview with The Daily Beast in 2017, Rice said she was “very honored” that people thought “Interview With the Vampire” — which was adapted into a film in 1994 starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt and is currently in development as a TV series — was a gay allegory. She then said, “I’ve always been very much a champion of gay rights, and art produced by gay people.”
Rice would continue to return to the characters introduced in “Interview With the Vampire” over the four decades of Vampire Chronicles works. Close relationships between men were often at the heart of these novels and perpetuated the queer readings of her work. And at least one of her books, the 2002 novel “Blackwood Farm,” includes a transgender character — though, in a line that she would consistently adopt, she said that it was not a conscious decision to write them that way.
“I think I have a gay sensibility and I feel like I’m gay, because I’ve always transcended gender, and I’ve always seen love as transcending gender,” she said in the 2017 interview, regarding the pervasiveness of queer characters in her writing. “In my books, I’ve always created bonds of love that have transcended gender.”
'Fear in America'
Rice’s ties to the LGBTQ community were deepened and made more personal when Christopher came out as gay after graduating from high school.
The Advocate ran a cover story about Christopher in 2000, in which he said he thought his mother took his coming out harder than his father did, because of what he perceived as her having a stronger desire, relative to his father’s, to have grandchildren someday.
For her part, Rice said that she was “shocked” by the revelation, because she “thought he was straight,” and that she worried about him having to face difficulties due to homophobia, but said his coming out didn’t diminish her love for him.
“People respond in very different ways to what being gay means. And there’s still an enormous amount of fear in America. There are still hate crimes. There is still a lot of consciousness-raising that has to be done — but not with us. I was worried, as anyone would be, that Chris would face obstacles and prejudices. But I did not love him one drop less,” she said.
Early life in New Orleans and leaving Christianity
Though Rice spent much of her adult life in California, where Christopher was born and raised, her upbringing in New Orleans greatly influenced her work and her trajectory as an LGBTQ advocate.
Born Howard Allen Frances O’Brien in 1941, Rice was raised in New Orleans by Irish Catholic parents (her father was named Howard). For decades, she maintained a tenuous relationship with the Roman Catholic church, rejecting and then readopting religion at various times in her life. After a religious awakening in 1998, she even wrote a series of Christian-themed novels.
But, in 2010, Rice announced that she had left the Christian faith permanently, via a post on her Facebook page.
“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity,” she wrote. “It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”
In an interview with The Los Angeles Times following the announcement, she cited the pope’s unwillingness to help address the AIDS epidemic as one of the reasons she was leaving the church. She also told NPR that the church’s stance on gay marriage was a key factor in her decision: “I didn’t anticipate at the beginning that the U.S. bishops were going to come out against same-sex marriage … that they were actually going to donate money to defeat the civil rights of homosexuals in the secular society.”
“When that broke in the news, I felt an intense pressure,” she added. “And I am a person who grew up with the saying that all that is needed for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing, and I believe that statement.”
'First LGBTQ ally'
Among the fans sharing remembrances and voicing their grief online since Rice’s death are members of the LGBTQ community, many of whom expressed their gratitude for her lifelong status as an ally.
Writer, actor and activist Phaylen Fairchild wrote a Medium post calling Rice her friend and “first LGBTQ ally,” recalling when she reached out to Rice in the early 2000s via the email address listed on the author’s website. Not only did Rice respond, she encouraged Fairchild’s newfound writing aspirations.
“At the time I was a navigating difficult territory of gender and sexuality, and she was the first person I came out to as gay,” Fairchild said in the piece.
“Anne, although I never heard her voice, felt like a safe place. … She gave me confidence to live authentically, telling me ‘Your life is a story, every day is a new page. Live a story worthy of telling again and again.’”
In 2009, Fairchild came out to Rice again, this time as transgender.
“In typical Anne fashion, she thought it was fabulous,” Fairchild remembered.
“She told me at the time that she believed transgender people were sacred, that we possessed a unique gift of life experience that few ever would, which would allow us to see the world from ‘a view from the greatest height.’ She shared with me stories of trans figures in history that she had learned about in her own extensive studies. ‘The most fascinating figures in mythology were always transgender or genderless’ she once told me. ‘And in so many cultures reaching back thousands of years, transgender and intersex people were deified, perceived as wise and powerful.’”
“Anne Rice was the first person who made me feel that it was OK to be comfortable in my skin, and that my journey as a transgender woman was special — not because I was by any means odd, weird or different — but that I was worthy of celebrating because my very existence was ‘a remark on the magic of the complex human condition,’” she continued.
A number of people have shared a screenshot of Fairchild’s remembrance to give thanks to Rice for her pro-transgender stance, with some contrasting it with the anti-trans rhetoric that has come from fellow author J.K. Rowling in recent years.
A legacy still in the making
During a 45-year career that had a stunning impact on LGBTQ culture, Rice wrote more than 40 books, covering multiple genres. The best-selling author’s legacy will live on not only in the works she left behind, and through her LGBTQ advocacy, but in new projects yet to be released.
“Ramses the Damned: The Reign of Osiris,” her second collaboration with her son, and the sequel to 2017’s “Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra,” is set to be published Feb. 1 by Penguin Random House. And last year, it was announced that Rice had sold the studio rights to two of her most popular series of books: “The Vampire Chronicles” and “Lives of the Mayfair Witches.”
Her son will serve as executive producer of any TV and film projects that result from the deal.