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Bela Lugosi: The tragic story of Hollywood’s first Dracula

The Hungarian actor could never leave behind his iconic character, which haunted him until the day he died.

Dracula is the world’s most famous vampire. The iconic character created by Bram Stoker in 1897, popularized this creature of the night, who is inspired by Vlad III, a fearsome emperor. The writer’s novel reached the whole world and, as expected, film representations emerged over the years.

One of the actors who stepped into the skin of the iconic vampire was Bela Lugosi. Playing the part got Lugosi into a very strange mental state. The movie legend got stuck in the role of Dracula. It’s even said, that he never got over the character and even passed thinking he was the count.

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Who was Bela Lugosi?

Béla Ferenc Dezso Blaskó was born on October 20, 1882, to a wealthy family living in Lugoj, the territory that is now Romania. Because his father was a banker, he enjoyed a good social position, so growing up, he could imagine his life doing what he liked the most, acting. Unfortunately, when he was only 12 years old, his father passed leaving the family economically unprotected.

Now in a terrible economic situation, he had to work as a miner, railroad worker, and laborer. Years later, things got better, and he was able to study acting at the Budapest Academy of Music and Arts. At the age of 19, he was already a star in his home country, where he adopted the stage name, Arisztid Olt. Bela specialized in Shakespeare’s plays.

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A unionized actor

With the advent of cinema, Bela began starring in films in Hungary while still working at the National Theater Company until 1918, when he took part in protests against low wages, labor exploitation, and unfair treatment of actors. Lugosi supported the Hungarian communist party and played a decisive role in the foundation of the Free Organization of Theater Workers, which later became the National Actors Union.

The crisis in his country forced him to move to Germany, where he began to forge a more successful career, but the war caught up with him, and he had to flee to the United States, where he settled and became famous.

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The first Dracula

In 1927, Bela got the role that would change his life: Count Dracula in the play of the same name. The Broadway show was a success and he gained prestige as an actor in this country.

International fame came when he was chosen to give life to the vampire on the big screen under the direction of Tod Browning. Later, he continued to play roles in horror and science fiction films such as The Legion of Soulless Men.

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The decadence of the vampire

In the 1940s, Lugosi, who had a problem with several substances, came to believe that he was actually Count Dracula. It is even said that he did not even take off his cape to sleep. In 1956, Lugosi passed of a heart attack. Legend has it, his last words were: “I am Count Dracula, the king of vampires, I am immortal.”

Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva

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