Christopher Lee, ‘Dracula’, ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ Actor, Dead at 93
After a staggering career that spanned more than sixty years actor, Christopher Lee has died. He was 93 years old. The BBC reports he passed away on Sunday “at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, after being hospitalized for respiratory problems and heart failure.” The legendary actor appeared in over 240 movies.
Lee (and, yes, Christopher Lee was his real name) was a man of astounding longevity; he appeared in many of the biggest franchises in cinema history. He became world-famous as Count Dracula in a series of horror movies for Hammer Films. He played one of James Bond’s most memorable enemies, Francisco Scaramanga, in The Man with the Golden Gun (he was also a distant relative of James Bond author Ian Fleming). He was Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes in numerous films, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Saruman in both The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. In Star Wars, he’s known as Count Dooku, the Sith Lord who memorably faced off with Yoda at the conclusion of Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones.
Lee was born on May 27, 1922, in London. He started acting after World War II, where he served as a member of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. His breakthrough came in 1957, when he played the monster to Peter Cushing’s Dr. Frankenstein in The Curse of Frankenstein. Lee became the most famous and beloved Dracula since Bela Lugosi (if one can love a bloodsucking demon from beyond the grave), and he reprised the role numerous times, in films like Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Dracula A.D. 1972, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, and the awesomely titled Dracula Has Risen From His Grave.
Lee’s screen presence was unique; sinister yet refined, imposing but regal, with a deep, resonant voice. Elegant villainy became his specialty. His Scaramanga was a notable change from the typical Bond villains. He’s got no psychotic plan for world domination and offers no deranged apocalyptic ravings. He simply wants to kill James Bond. He’s really quite hospitable to him, too (before he tries to shoot him with his Golden Gun).
Lee brought a sense of gravity to everything he played; he was invaluable in outlandish fantasy films like The Lord of the Rings because his presence brought an innate seriousness to everything he touched. In his mouth, ordinary dialogue sounded like Shakespeare. He could turn a fight between two old dudes in dirty cloaks into an epic battle for the ages.
The range of Lee’s career is incredible; he appeared in everything from Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet to Police Academy: Mission to Moscow. He appeared in the original version of The Wicker Man, provided the voices for the English-language version of Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, appeared on the cover of Paul McCartney’s Band on the Run, and even released a “symphonic metal concept album.” He was a true renaissance man — with a pair of very sharp teeth. He will not be forgotten.