He began his career as a stage actor playing small roles in provincial theatres. He went on to play several major roles with the National Theatre of Hungary.
He served as an infantry lieutenant in the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I, gradually rising to the rank of captain in the ski patrol.
He was forced to flee his motherland during the Hungarian Revolution of 1919. First he went to Germany where he found work as a film actor. Later he migrated to the U.S, and went to New York where there was a sizeable Hungarian community.
He became involved with the Hungarian Theatre in New York, and took the last name of “Lugosi” in honour of his hometown. He acted in his first English language play ‘The Red Poppy’ in 1922.
He made debut in American films with the melodrama ‘The Silent Command’ in 1923, and followed it with ‘The Midnight Girl’ in 1925. Soon other roles followed.
In 1927, he was offered the title role in ‘Dracula’, a theatrical based on the horror novel of the same name by Bram Stoker. Lugosi’s portrayal of the Dracula was mysteriously alluring and chillingly scary at the same time. He was the first actor who brought the vampire to life on stage.
Lugosi was invited to play the same role in a film version of the play. ‘Dracula’, released in 1931 was a big hit and fans began to consider Lugosi as synonymous with the vampire.
After the success of Dracula, he received numerous offers to play villainous characters. He played a mad scientist in ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’ (1932) and an evil voodoo master in ‘White Zombie’ (1932).
Throughout the 1930s, he was typecast as a villain and was offered roles of murderers, criminals, monsters, etc. He played an insane psychiatrist in ‘The Black act’ (1934), a vampire in ‘Mark of the Vampire’ (1935), and a mentally unstable blacksmith in ‘Son of Frankenstein‘(1939).
Continue Reading Below
By the end of the 1930s decade, horror films were falling out of favour with the audiences and Lugosi wanted to experiment with other roles as well, in order to break off the “Horror villain” stereotype. But unfortunately he could not, and had to continue playing minor roles in B-Grade horrors.
Despite being an actor of immense talent, and despite being much loved by his fans, Lugosi’s career had begun to fail miserably after the 1930’s. During the 1940’s, he acted in horror movies like ‘Black Friday’ (1940), ‘Night Monster’ (1942), ‘Vodoo Man’ (1944), and ‘Scared to Death’ (1947), but none of these could revive his faltering career.
By the 1950s, he had become a drug addict and was deeply in debt. In order to make some money, he acted in some of director Ed Wood’s movies like ‘Glen or Glenda’ (1953) and ‘Bride of the Monster’ (1955).
The biggest success of Lugosi’s career was ‘Dracula’ (1931) in which he played the Count Dracula. His Hungarian accent added to the mystery of the character he portrayed. Even though there had been many other actors who had played the same character, somehow Lugosi became synonymous with the ‘Dracula’ character.
‘White Zombie’ (1932) is considered to be one of his most memorable films. He played the role of an evil voddoo master who transforms a woman into a zombie. The film received mixed critical reviews but was financially successful.
His movie ‘The Black Cat’ (1934) in which he plays an insane psychiatrist did well at the box office and received positive response from critics.
Personal Life & Legacy
Lugosi was married for five times, with four of his marriages ending in divorce. He married his fifth wife, Hope Lininger in 1955. They were married for just a year when he died. He had one son with his fourth wife, Lillian.
He suffered from Sciatica and was addicted to morphine and methadone.
He died of a heart attack at the age of 73, and was buried in his Dracula costume as per the request of his son.