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article imageLegendary screen villain & horror icon Christopher Lee dies at 93

By Sarah Gopaul     Jun 11, 2015 in Entertainment
Sir Christopher Lee died at the age of 93, leaving fans with an impressive array of immortal performances from Hammer Films’ Count Dracula to Bond villain Scaramanga to ‘Lord of the Rings’ Saruman.
Sir Christopher Lee never truly embraced his title as a “horror legend,” but it’s probably safe to transpose that to “screen legend” — a label to which no one could object. The prolific actor’s IMDB page lists 281 acting credits, including a film completed last year and another set for release in 2016. It’s for this reason that in spite of his advanced age, many people may view the 93-year-old’s death over the weekend as a surprise. Lee passed away after being admitted to hospital with respiratory difficulties and heart failure.
Lee was in his early 20’s when he made his feature film debut in Terence Young’s Gothic romance Corridor of Mirrors (1947). The next decade would be filled with nearly 50 TV and movie roles before he would appear in his first picture for Hammer Films in 1957, The Curse of Frankenstein, in which he portrayed the monster. He wouldn’t don the iconic fangs until the following year when he’d take on the role of Count Dracula in Horror of Dracula. Lee went on to portray the legendary vampire eight more times, all but two of which were for Hammer productions. He also played the title role in 1959’s The Mummy and 1966’s Rasputin, the Mad Monk for the horror company, helping Hammer revive the genre and forever cementing a connection to it and the studio. Lee’s contribution to horror is immeasurable, entertaining/scaring generations of audiences and influencing others, including Johnny Depp.
Though Lee is arguably the second best Dracula of all time (next to Bela Lugosi), he portrayed several other memorable personalities throughout his lengthy career. His above-average stature (he was 6’5”) and strong, deep voice lent itself to playing villainous characters, such as supernatural monsters, crazed kings and slave traders. Non-Hammer horror appearances included the Fu Manchu series and The Wicker Man, which was one of the actor’s favourites. Yet, he also had the opportunity to play the hero, starring as Sherlock Holmes in three instances.
James Bond creator Ian Fleming is Lee’s cousin and he insisted the actor portray a Bond villain. In 1974, Lee played opposite Roger Moore as the assassin Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun; a decidedly sexier bad guy than was typical, perhaps serving as a dark reflection of the secret agent. Lee would work steadily for the next 25 years on stage and screen, but without the same recognition he’d achieved earlier in his profession.
However in an amazing and inspiring turn of events, his career would be revitalized in 2001 when Peter Jackson cast the 70-something actor in the Lord of the Rings trilogy as the turncoat wizard Saruman — a role he unquestionably owned through all three films and then resumed for The Hobbit trilogy. (Fun fact: he was the only member of the LOTR cast to have actually met the fantasy series creator, J.R.R. Tolkien). Lee’s comeback was doubled by George Lucas, who selected the actor to play Count Dooku (the name undoubtedly a nod to the actor’s portrayal of another famous count) in the Star Wars prequel trilogy around the same time.
In addition to an astounding film career, Lee had a lesser known passion for heavy metal. In 2010, he recorded a symphonic heavy metal concept album based on the life of Charlemagne, which he followed up with a sequel in 2013 with Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath on guitar. In 2012, he released his first holiday-themed metal album, “A Heavy Metal Christmas.” A year later his single “Jingle Hell” reached No. 18 on Billboard Charts, breaking Tony Bennet’s record by becoming the oldest performer to have made the chart at 91. Less surprisingly, he’s also the oldest heavy metal artist and is a recipient of the Metal Hammer Golden God Award.
During World War II, Lee served in the Royal Air Force and Special Forces. There were rumours he was a spy, but he honoured his oath of secrecy and never discussed it. He published an autobiography in 1977, titled Tall, Dark and Gruesome, indicating he eventually became resigned to his horror legend status. He was also an expert fencer and performed many of his own stunts, serving as an honorary member of three stuntman unions. He was knighted by Prince Charles in 2009 and received a lifetime achievement award from BAFTA in 2011.
“As Boris Karloff told me, you have to make your mark in something other actors cannot, or will not, do. And if it’s a success, you’ll not be forgotten.”
More about sir christopher lee, Obituary, count dracula, Hammer films, Lord of the rings
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