Janet Leigh, the beauty whose shocking murder in the classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller Psycho was credited with making generations of film fans think twice about stepping into a hotel room shower, has died, aged 77.
The actress’ husband, Robert Brandt, and her daughters, actresses Kelly Curtis and Jamie Lee Curtis, were at their mother’s side when she died at her Beverly Hills home yesterday, said Heidi Schaeffer, a spokeswoman.
“She died peacefully at home,” Schaeffer said.
Leigh had suffered from vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels, for the past year. The stunning blonde beauty enjoyed a long and distinguished career, appearing in such films as the 1962 political thriller The Manchurian Candidate and in Orson Welles’ 1958 film noir classic Touch of Evil.
But she gained her most lasting fame in Psycho as the embezzling office worker who is stabbed to death in the shower by madman Anthony Perkins. The role earned her an Oscar nomination as best supporting actress.
Hitchcock compiled the shower sequence in 70-odd takes of two and three seconds each, for which Leigh spent seven days in the shower. Rumours circulated that she was nude, but she wore a flesh-coloured moleskin.
Although tame by today’s standards, the scene was shocking for the time for its brutality. Leigh wrote in her 1995 book Psycho: Behind the Scenes in the Classic Thriller that the filming was easy until the last 20 seconds when she had to express total horror as her character was being slashed to death.
She often said she hadn’t been able to take a shower since the movie. “It’s not a hype, not something I thought would be good for publicity,” she insisted. “Honest to gosh, it’s true.”
Her other films included Act of Violence, Little Women, Holiday Affair, Strictly Dishonourable, The Naked Spur, Living It Up, Jet Pilot, Bye Bye Birdie and Safari.
Leigh appeared with daughter Jamie Lee in the 1980 thriller The Fog and made occasional television appearances in her later years.
She had married Curtis’ father, Tony Curtis, in 1951 when both stars were at the height of their fame and they became Hollywood’s favourite couple. They divorced in 1962.