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Anne Rice, author of 'Interview with the Vampire,' dies at 80

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Her fans are remembering Anne Rice, author of "The Vampire Chronicles." She died Saturday at age 80 due to complications from a stroke. Rice's first novel, "Interview With The Vampire," became a hit movie starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. And that is just one sign of her enduring appeal. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this appreciation.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Anne Rice believed in ghosts. In 2003, NPR's Liane Hansen interviewed Rice at her stately antebellum house in her hometown of New Orleans.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ANNE RICE: It's huge. It's old. It was built in 1856. It has legends. It has ghosts.

LIANE HANSEN: Really?

RICE: Oh, yes, apparently. I don't see them, but other people have seen them.

HANSEN: Ghosts of whom?

RICE: Well, they say there's a ghost of Pamela Starr Clapp. She was the lady who got these mirrors.

BLAIR: Historical research and tragedy are hallmarks of Anne Rice's work.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE: THE VAMPIRE CHRONICLES")

BRAD PITT: (As Louis) 1791 was the year it happened.

BLAIR: In the movie based on "Interview With The Vampire," Louis - played by Brad Pitt - is grieving the deaths of his wife and child.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE: THE VAMPIRE CHRONICLES")

PITT: (As Louis) I had lost my wife in childbirth. She and the infant had been buried less than half a year.

BLAIR: It was the death of Anne Rice's own daughter that inspired her to write "Interview With The Vampire." Her daughter died of leukemia. She was 5 years old. It was a nightmare, Rice told The New York Times. She and her husband, the late poet and painter Stan Rice, started drinking heavily. Drawing from a short story she'd written, Rice started "Interview With The Vampire." She told Publishers Weekly, suddenly, through the guise of a fantasy character, I was able to touch the reality that was mine. She and her husband eventually stopped drinking.

Rice's stories are known for their sensuality, their blood lust. This is Pitt and fellow vampire Armand, played by Antonio Banderas.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE: THE VAMPIRE CHRONICLES")

ANTONIO BANDERAS: (As Armand) I will die.

PITT: (As Louis) No, you are dead. And you want me to quicken you once more. And as much as your invitation might appeal to me, I must regretfully decline.

BLAIR: Rice was raised Irish Catholic. She broke from Christianity in 2010 because she couldn't tolerate the church's views on same-sex marriage. She wrote on her Facebook page that it was impossible for her to belong to this, quote, "quarrelsome, hostile group." She told NPR the decision had nothing to do with her son, who is gay. She also reflected on her on-again, off-again relationship with God.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

RICE: I found what the characters in the vampire novels were looking for. They were groping in the darkness. They lived in a world without God. I found God. But that doesn't mean I have to be a supporting member of any organized religion.

BLAIR: Announcing his mother's death, Rice's son Christopher writes that his mother taught him to embrace my dreams, reject conformity and challenge the dark voices of fear and self-doubt. He continued, Anne is now experiencing firsthand the glorious answers to many spiritual and cosmic questions, the quest for which defined her life and career.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL AND JONATHAN SHEFFER'S "BORN TO DARKNESS, PT. 1") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.