Legendary Actor Sir Christopher Lee Dies at 93

Editor, Canada; Montréal, Canada (@bonnequin)
Legendary Actor Sir Christopher Lee Dies at 93
Saruman. Dracula. Lord Summerisle. Scaramanga. It's hard to think of another actor whose face is associated with so many iconic roles. Sir Christopher Lee, whose name is synonymous with horror and fantasy film, passed away this past Sunday from respiratory problems (his wife of 50 years waited until family were informed before releasing the news to the press).

At 6'4'', with, dare I say it, devilishly handsome looks, Lee was an acting force to be reckoned with, a magnetic presence and a consummate actor who, even with his legendary status, could disappear into whatever role he played. With nearly 300 credits to his name, he must be one of the most prolific actors of all time, barely stopping work since his first on-screen appearance in the late 1940s. But it wasn't until he began to work with Hammer films that he gained recognition. He first worked with director Terence Fisher and actor Peter Cushing in The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957, with Lee as The Creature. This union proved successful enough that the following year, the trio worked together again on The Horror of Dracula, with Lee in the title role. It was this part that pushed Lee to fame, though in later years, he hoped to move away from his status as a horror icon.

Through the 1960s, Lee continued to work mainly in horror films, playing Dracula nine times. He would also (like so many British actors) have his turn as Sherlock Holmes, appeared in a version of The Three Musketeers (as the bad guy, of course), worked with Spanish director Jess Franco on the Fu Manchu series, and appear in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Some of his horror work spilled over into the 1970s, with probably my favourite of his roles, as Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man. He also worked with Spanish experimental filmmaker Pere Portabella, and in the video clip below, you will see him singing some opera (in French) in an excerpt from Umbracle (more of Portabella's work with Lee is available on YouTube, though not always with subtitles).

But Lee was moving away from these kinds of films. In 1974, he played one of the best Bond villains in The Man with the Golden Gun, and starred in the action-thriller Airport '77. He also played Captain Rameses in Starship Invasions and the head gypsy in the WWII film The Passage in 1979. While he continued to be offered mainly horror or villain roles, Lee tried to avoid this typecasting.

He kept working through the 1980s, often in the US on television, but was introduced to a whole new generation when he appeared in both the Star Wars prequels and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He was also a frequent collaborator with Tim Burton, appearing in Sleepy Hollow, Corpse Bride and Alice in Wonderland.

He was knighted in 2009 for services to drama and charity. He even recorded a series of heavy metals albums in the past 20 years. His last complete film was Angels in Notting Hill, which has yet to be released.

It's hard to think of another actor who has done so much work, crossed so many generations, and is familiar to cinephiles around the world. What an incredible life, and considering he had signed on to do yet another film, he obviously kept going to the end, and who know what other role he might have made iconic. Rest in Peace, Sir, it is well deserved.

Ard Vijn adds:

It is hard to write a brief summary of his life, because he did so much during it. Mostly known as a horror icon during the late '50s and '60s, he moved on from there in a wide range of acting roles and other activities. Few people can boast to start a death-metal career past the age of eighty, but Sir Christopher Lee accomplished it. 

There are so many legends about him, whether it was his time in the Special Forces during World War II, his film career or his stories. In the extras on the Lord of the Rings DVD's, fellow cast members tell the most magnificent anecdotes about him. He had a vast general knowledge and spoke many languages fluently.

Only twelve years ago, he was asked in an interview what he considered to have been the highlight of his career, and allegedly his answer was: "What are you talking about? I'm in both Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, obviously THIS is the highlight of my career!"

He stayed very much active all the way to last weekend, and indeed had signed up for a new film even, to be shot this November. And no matter his age, he kept being a magnificent presence and will be very much missed, not just for what he did, but for what he still was about to do. And how many nonagenarians can boast that?

Rest in peace, Sir Christopher Lee, and thank you for the many wonderful gifts you gave us.

Ard Vijn contributed to this story.

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Sir Christopher Lee

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