Christopher Lee, the last of the giants in the Silver Age of classic horror, passed away on June 7 after being admitted to a hospital for respiratory problems and heart failure.
An actor who eventually appeared in well over 200 films, Lee made his stage debut in school as the demonic lead in “Rumpelstiltskin.”
He volunteered for military service in WWII and had a remarkable record as an RAF intelligence officer and with ground forces in Italy.
After WWII he began his film career in a humble way. In Sir Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948), one of his first roles, he literally was a Spear Carrier.
Only when Lee started making movies for Hammer did he become an acting icon. The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) launched his association with Hammer and was the first of 20 films that he made with Peter Cushing.
Although Hammer horror films were looked down upon by the mainstream, they were successful and had an international following. Actor Sammy Davis Jr. claimed credit in one of his memoirs for acquainting Lee and Cushing with how well their movies did in America — running into them at a British studio, Davis said their jaws collectively dropped when he mentioned their films’ American box office tally.
Lee was cast as characters from many literary and film franchises, often playing Dracula, co-starring in the Sherlock Holmes tale The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), appearing as Fu Manchu several times, as the hero’s nemesis in The Three Musketeers (1973), and in Airport ‘77. He was the James Bond villain Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). He was Count Dooku in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002) and its sequels. Lee was Saruman the White in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and reputedly the only member of the cast who had met Tolkien himself.
A favorite of director Tim Burton, Lee appeared in five of his movies: Sleepy Hollow, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Alice In Wonderland and Dark Shadows.
Lee personally considered his best performance to be that of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the biopic Jinnah (1998), and his best film to be the British horror film The Wicker Man (1973).
Lee was created a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2001 in recognition of his services to drama. He was created a Knight Bachelor in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List of 2009 for his services to drama and charity. He also was made a Commander of the Order of St John in 1997.
He was recognized in 1995 with a Bram Stoker lifetime achievement award for his horror works.
Lee was a big fan favorite. He gave an extensive three-part interview to Michael Parry for Castle of Frankenstein in the 1960s. Parry remained close to Lee and later edited a number of anthologies under Lee’s name, Christopher Lee’s ‘X’ Certificate No. 1 (1975), From the Archives of Evil 1 and 2 (both 1976), and Lurking Shadows (1979).
Lee authored one short story, “The Eternal Reich,” published in The Blackest Death: Volume I (2003)
Collectibles associated with Lee often sell for high prices. In Ackerman’s estate sale in 2009 a first American edition of Dracula signed by Bram Stoker, Bela Lugosi, John Carradine, Christopher Lee and others went for $25,000. His “Saruman” Wizard Staff went for $50,000 in a 2013 prop auction.
Among Christopher Lee’s last projects were several heavy metal records on which he sang. His 2013 single Jingle Hell entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number 22, which made him the oldest living artist ever to enter the charts.
He is survived by his wife, the former Danish model Birgit Kroencke, and other family members.