Peter Wilton Cushing was born on 27 May 1913 in Kenley, Surrey, in England. He and his older brother David were raised first in Dulwich Village, a south London suburb, and then later back in Surrey by his mother Nellie Marie and father George Edward, who was a quantity surveyor. At an early age Cushing was attracted to acting, inspired by his favorite aunt, who was a stage actress. While at school Cushing pursued his interest in acting and also in drawing - He was an artist, skilled in drawing and painting; as a young struggling actor, he supplemented his income by selling scarves that he hand-painted and later, as an established actor, had showings of his water colors. His sketch of Sherlock Holmes became the official logo for the Northern Musgraves, a British Sherlock Holmes society. At this time he also dabbled in local amateur theater until moving to London to attend the Guildhall School of Music and Drama on scholarship. He then performed in repertory theater, deciding in 1939 to head for Hollywood, where he made his film debut in The Man in the Iron Mask (1939) directed by James Whale, a classic filmmaker of the Black and White age of the cinema, who shot masterpieces like Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man. Other Hollywood films included A Chump at Oxford (1940) with the famous comic duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Vigil in the Night (1940) and They Dare Not Love (1941). However, after a short stay, Cushing returned to England by way of New York (making brief appearances on Broadway) and Canada. Back in his homeland he contributed to the war effort during World War II - Turned down for military service on health grounds, he instead joined a theatre company that performed at military bases.
Cushing came to work with actress Helen Beck, and the two fell deeply in love. They married in 1943. After the war he performed in the West End and had his big break appearing with Laurence Olivier in the film Hamlet (1948), in which Cushing's future partner-in-horror Christopher Lee also had a bit part. Both actors also appeared in Moulin Rouge (1952) but didn't meet until their later horror films. During the 1950s Cushing became a familiar face on British television, appearing in numerous teleplays, such as 1984 (1954), as Winston Smith in the movie based on George Orwell’s novel. At the end of the decade he began his legendary association with Hammer Film Productions in its remakes of the 1930s Universal horror classics. His first Hammer roles included Dr. Frankenstein in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dr. Van Helsing in Dracula (1958) and Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959). Years later he appears on screen as the renowned detective in the classic TV series based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories and once again in “Sherlock Holes and the Mask of Death” in 1984.
Cushing continued playing the roles of Drs. Frankenstein and Van Helsing, as well as taking on other horror characters, in Hammer films over the next 20 years.His film career had taken off establishing him at once as a cult hero of the horror film aficionados, with Christopher Lee as the monster. These two, along with director Terence Fisher and writer Jimmy Sangster, claimed the next ten years of horror movie making as British. Hammer was to become the most successful british film company of all time and Cushing played an integral role. He also appeared in films for the other major horror producer of the time, Amicus Productions, including Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965) and its later horror anthologies, a couple of Dr. Who films (1965, 1966), I, Monster (1971), and others. By the mid-1970s these companies had stopped production, but Cushing, firmly established as a horror star, continued in the genre for some time thereafter. When once asked about his favorite horror movie Cushing said: "Strangely enough, I don't like horror pictures at all. I love to make them because they give pleasure to people, but my favourite types of films are much more subtle than horror. I like to watch films like Bridge Over the River Kawi, The Apartment or lovely musicals." He also said: "Who wants to see me as 'Hamlet'? Very few. But millions want to see me as Frankenstein so that's the one I do. If I played Hamlet, they'd call it a horror film. People look at me as if I were some sort of monster, but I can't think why. In my macabre pictures, I have either been a monster-maker or a monster-destroyer, but never a monster. Actually, I'm a gentle fellow. Never harmed a fly. I love animals, and when I'm in the country I'm a keen bird-watcher."
In 1971, Peters beloved wife Helen died after a prolonged illness. It was a loss from which he never fully recovered. He threw himself into his work, but spent most private hours dreaming of when he and Helen would be reunited in Heaven. Peter Cushing was a deeply Christian man and attended St. Alphege Church in Whitstable, he also did extensive charity work and never failed to sign his cards and photos
Perhaps his best-known appearance outside of horror films was as Grand Moff Tarkin in George Lucas' phenomenally successful science fiction film Star Wars (1977). Prior to being cast as Tarkin in Star Wars (1977), George Lucas considered using him as Obi-Wan Kenobi (which ultimately went to Alec Guinness). Carrie Fisher said in an interview that doing her scenes with him in the Star Wars (1977) were difficult for two reasons: she thought the lines were ridiculous and she found Peter to be so polite and charming off camera that it was hard to project the sense of disdain that her character, Princess Leia, held for his character, Tarkin.
Cushing himself says about his role in Star Wars: "My criterion for accepting a role isn't based on what I would like to do. I try to consider what the audience would like to see me do and I thought kids would adore Star Wars."
Biggles (1986) (aka "Biggles: Adventures in Time") was Cushing's last film before his retirement, during which he made a few television appearances, wrote two autobiographies and pursued his hobbies of bird watching and painting.
In 1989 he was made an Officer of the British Empire in recognition of his contributions to the acting profession in Britain and worldwide.
Towards the end of his life - he showed no regret or remorse about the things he had or hadn't done. His only regret was losing his wife and living for over twenty years without her. So he looking on death with a faith in God and reunification with Helen in Heaven.Peter Cushing died on 11 August 1994 in Canterbury, Kent, England, UK at the age of 81 with more than 130 movies in his filmography.
After he died, his colleague and close friend Christopher Lee said in an interview that he never felt closer and more open to any of his other friends than he felt to Peter.
Peter Cushing was one of those actors who took great pride in the work he did and it shows with each performance. His mere presence in a film was enough to guarantee it being an enjoyable experience.