For the record, Christopher Lee was a tall guy. At an imposing 6’5″ frame and with a hypnotically basso voice (and naturally accented as British), this was a man born to make horror movies. That was Lee’s bread and butter for much of his career, but the actor will be fondly remembered for so much more than playing Dracula for years and years. As you may have noticed, we are now talking about Christopher Lee in the past tense because he passed away from respiratory problems and heart failure while hospitalized Sunday (the delay was so that his family would not find out through the news_. For movie geeks the world over, Lee defined intimidation and regality in equal measure, and continued to be very much in demand and working well into his 93rd year. But to quote Edwin Stanton when he remarked on the massing of another tall man, Abraham Lincoln, now he belongs to the ages.
Looking at Lee’s acting credits on IMDb, they total nearly 300 parts across film, television, and even as a voice actor in video games. Later in his life, Lee even broke into music, lending his voice to heavy metal band Rhapsody of Fire, and later recording his own conceptual metal albums about the Holy Roman Emperor, King Charlemagne. For the current generation of movie fans though, Lee is perhaps best known for playing Saruman the White in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, and for portraying Count Dooku in the second and third films in the Star Wars prequels. But Lee’s career is more than that. He’s enjoyed an incredible career spanning eight decades, a highly successful and influential run of films that will be enjoyed for generations to come.
Like a lot of young people of his generation, Lee fought in World War II. He was part of the Royal Air Force and fought in the battlefields of North Africa and Italy, winning promotions and commendations throughout his war record until his discharge from the RAF in 1946.
Despite his later renown. Lee’s acting career got off to a rough start as he appeared in a number of films in small roles with no names, or as a background actor. It was in that capacity he met his good friend Peter Cushing while appearing as a “spear carrier” in Laurence Olivier‘s Hamlet. (Cushing had the small but pivotal role of Osric.)
Things looked up for Cushing when he was cast in the Hammer Studios horror film; The Curse of Frankenstein; Lee played the monster and Cushing played Dr. Frankenstein. It was a partnership they’d keep up more famously in Hammer’s Dracula series of films, seven of them, in which Lee played the title role and Cushing played his nemesis Van Helsing. Lee would also appear alongside Boris Karloff in Corridors of Blood, as the Mad Monk Rasputin, and as the world’s most famous detective in Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace.
Lee’s next leap in film infamy was to appear in the film The Wicker Man where he played Lord Summerisle. Lee would call The Wicker Man his best movies. The next year he further solidified his villainous bona fides by playing the Bond villain Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun. Throughout the 70s and 80s, Lee worked nonstop in TV and movies from the memorable (Airport ’77), to the not-so-memorable (Steven Spielberg’s 1941). He even appeared in an episode of Charlie’s Angels and was the villain in the TV movie Captain America II: Death Too Soon.
Along with Star Wars and LOTR, Lee became a fixture in the works of Tim Burton including appearances in person or by voice in Sleepy Hollow, Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows. He even appeared in the very mockable Wicker Man remake starring Nicolas Cage. His last appearance on-screen, fittingly, was The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, but he has one more film “in the can,” the dramedy Angels in Notting Hill, in which he plays, oddly enough, “The Boss of the Universe.”
On his mixed career or schlock and prestige, Lee was the consummate everyman’s actor telling the Spectator in 2006, “Every actor has to make terrible films from time to time, but the trick is never to be terrible in them.”
Lee is survived by his daughter, Christina Erika Carandini Lee. He will be missed.
Source: The Guardian