Shortly after celebrating his 93rd birthday in hospital, the great Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee CBE CStJ passed away on 7 June 2015 due to respiratory problems and heart failure. He was born on 27 May 1922. He shaped himself into one of the biggest icons of sci-fi, fantasy and horror over the 93 years that followed.
Lee made his motion picture debut in 1948 in Terence Young’s gothic romance Corridor Of Mirrors, but it wasn’t until he struck up a partnership with Hammer Films in 1957, playing the Creature in The Curse Of Frankenstein, that he appeared on the genre radar. Lee stayed the Hammer for years off the back of the success they had with their take on Dracula, which starred Lee as the Count opposite his life-long friend Peter Cushing’s Dr Van Helsing. The pair revisited the roles together for Dracula A.D. in 1972 and The Satanic Rites Of Dracula in 1974. Lee would often downplay the importance of the Dracula role for him but there can be no question that he defined the character for so many of us.
In an attempt to avoid getting typecast, Lee started to branch out into other genres. The accumulation of a broad range of film credits led to him becoming one of the most prolific actors of all time. He is also very well known for his character work, having taken on roles like Francisco Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun, Count Dooku in Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones and Saruman the White in the Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. In 2009, he was knighted for his services to drama and charity. He also received a Bafta fellowship in 2011, which was presented to him by Tim Burton, who had collaborated with him on five films, including Sleepy Hollow, Corpse Bride and Dark Shadows.
His acting prowess aside, Lee was an incredibly interesting man. He was the only member of the Lord Of The Rings cast to have actually met JRR Tolkien (in a pub, of all places) and he dabbled in heavy metal and released three albums and two seasonal EPs. He spoke six languages, was a champions fencer and was 6’5”, making him one of the world’s tallest leading men. He also volunteered to fight for the Finnish forces during the Winter War in World War II. One thing led to another, and he ended up served in the SAS on and off afterwards. He wasn’t allowed to talk about it for obvious reasons, but rumour has it that he was a Nazi hunter.
From chillingly discussing the virtues of sacrifice in The Wicker Man to fighting back the forces of darkness in The Devil Rides Out, Christopher Lee had a presence that was unmatched and a versatility that often went overlooked. His life and work brought decades’ worth of joy, awe and nightmares, immortalised him as a legend of cinema and ensured that he will be sadly missed.