Reclusive author Thomas Harris has at long last revealed the inspiration behind his most famous character. The creepy cannibal serial killer Hannibal Lecter, immortalized by Anthony Hopkins in the classic 1990 Oscar winner Silence of the Lambs and its two follow-ups – now the subject of a TV series – was in fact based on a homicidal Mexican doctor. The infamous character made his first appearance in Harris’ 1981 novel Red Dragon, which was made into the movie Manhunter in the mid-1980s – starring Brian Cox as the lunatic psychiatrist – and then remade in the mid-2000s under its original title with the more famous Hopkins in the role.
Harris has now revealed who inspired the original creation of the literary and movie madman. The author says that he encountered a suave doctor while visiting a Mexican prison in order to interview a prisoner during the 1960s. Harris, who at the time was working as a journalist, believed that the well-spoken doctor was in charge of the treatment of the man he had gone to the prison to interview, only to find out later that he was actually a crazed murderer. “Dr Salazar was a small, lithe man with dark red hair,” Harris’ foreword to the 25th anniversary publication of Silence of the Lambs reads. “He stood very still and there was a certain elegance about him.” Later Harris asked the warden how long Salazar had worked there, only to be told that he was an insane inmate who had murdered and then packaged up his victim “in a surprisingly small box”. Salazar would become the inspiration for Dr Lecter.