'Rocky Horror' at 45: Susan Sarandon recalls horrific bout with pneumonia after being ‘hardly dressed’ on cold, wet sets

Madness reigns in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the midnight-movie classic about a newly engaged couple who stumble upon a Transylvanian convention at the castle of an eccentric “sweet transvestite” alien scientist (Tim Curry’s Dr. Frank N. Furter), which turns 45 on Saturday

The musical’s production got a little too mad for Susan Sarandon, who fell seriously ill during shooting due to a combination a scantily clad wardrobe and some sketchy weather.

The Jim Sharman-directed adaptation of Richard O’Brien’s 1973 stage musical was filmed in two locations in rural England, Bray Studios and the Gothic estate Oakley Court, in the fall of 1974. The country house, Sarandon told Yahoo Entertainment during a 2014 Role Recall interview (watch above), had no roof.

“And so it was actually snowing and raining in the house and for some reason there was no heat in the studio,” said Sarandon, who played the virgin-turned-vixen heroine Janet Weiss. “So I had pneumonia, because I was obviously hardly dressed through a lot of it, and damp.”

Susan Sarandon in 'Rocky Horror Picture Show' (Fox)
Susan Sarandon in 'Rocky Horror Picture Show' (Fox)

The future Dead Man Walking Oscar winner had previously appeared on the soap opera A World Apart and in the TV movie The Last of the Belles when she was cast alongside Barry Bostwick in Rocky Horror after the film studio Fox insisted on American leads in the British production.

“And so the doctor came and said I really shouldn’t go back to work, ’cause I had walking pneumonia,” Sarandon continued. “And what they could do was either put me in a hot bath or warm me up between each [scene]. They thought, ‘Here’s the American diva.’ They weren’t very happy to hear any of that. And so what they did do was they created a screen that they put space heaters in so there was one warm place to go. And everybody went in there, and then it went up in flames, and that was the end of that.”

Rocky Horror was hardly a hit upon its initial release in August 1975, and was mostly panned by critics. In April 1976, midnight screenings began in New York City and quickly spread around the country, with the film’s rabid fanbase often turning up in costume and acting out the movie’s delirious action and catchy numbers below the screen. Forty-five years later the cult classic is considered the longest-running theatrical release of all time and an LGBT cinematic milestone.

“That was hard,” said Sarandon, who would go onto to star in films like The Hunger (1983), Bull Durham (1988), Thelma and Louise (1991) and Stepmom (1998), of the shoot.

“But it looks like we’re having fun, right? It seems like we’re having fun.”

Stream The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Amazon Prime.

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