Thursday, June 11, 2015

Christopher Lee 1922-2015

Sir Christopher Lee; actor, singer, author, and knight…has passed away at 93. 

Perhaps the most prolific actor of our time with over 275 credits on the big and small screen, Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was born in England in 1922, and eventually served time in World War II in the Royal Air Force and Special Forces. The seeds of his eventual legend were planted during this time, as his time as a spy and a Nazi hunter would partially inspire his step-cousin, writer Ian Fleming, to create a super spy character known as James Bond. 

After a decorated service, he took the advice of his uncle, who was the Italian ambassador in London, to give acting a try. Lee, with his towering and lean 6’5 frame and deep booming voice which would send chills down the most hardened spines, became a natural fit for the horror genre and villains of every type. His first big break came with THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN in 1957, which was the first color adaptation of the story, in which he played Frankenstein’s monster. It was the first of many films he would make for horror-factory Hammer Films, and in 1958 he would play the vampire Count Dracula in DRACULA; a role which many fans still relate him to this day. Lee would reprise the role eight times over the next 20 years. It was during this time that he would solidify a friendship and working relationship with fellow horror actor Peter Cushing…who would go on to play Grand Moff Tarkin in STAR WARS in 1977. 

Achieving status as a horror icon in the late 1950’s and 1960’s, which would include THE MUMMY (1959), Lee would branch out by playing Sir Henry Baskerville in the Sherlock Holmes adventure THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, also in 1959. He played Holmes himself in SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE DEADLY NECKLACE in 1962, and would play Sherlock’s brother Mycroft in Billy Wilder’s THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES in 1970. 

After another string of horror films which included a series of FU MANCHU films from 1957 to 1977, along with I, MONSTER (1971), THE CREEPING FLESH (1972), and his personal favorite, THE WICKER MAN (1973), Lee came full circle when he appeared in his step-cousin Ian Fleming’s adaptation of the James Bond film THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN in 1974…a role in which many Bond fans keep in high regard as one of the best Bond villains. 

In the late 1970’s he moved from England to America in a move to avoid being typecast in horror films. He appeared in AIRPORT ’77 (1977), Steven Spielberg’s 1941 (1979), and THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN INVINCIBLE (1982), in which he sang on two songs in the film. He would try his hand at comedy in GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH (1990), POLICE ACADEMY: MISSION TO MOSCOW (1994), and serious drama as the founder of modern Pakistan in JINNAH (1998). 

He would enjoy a string of films with stylistic director Tim Burton, appearing in SLEEPY HOLLOW (2005), CORPSE BRIDE (2005), CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005), SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (2007), ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010), and DARK SHADOWS (2012). Other notable appearances include THE GOLDEN COMPASS (2007), THE RESIDENT (2011), and Martin Scorsese’s HUGO (2011). 

In the early 2000’s, it would be with George Lucas and JRR Tolkien, Lee’s favorite author, where he would enjoy a successful second life as a pop culture icon. In Lucas’ STAR WARS films ATTACK OF THE CLONES and REVENGE OF THE SITH, Lee would dip back into his villain roots by playing the evil Count Dooku; a role in which he put his extensive knowledge of fencing to use and loosely followed in the footsteps of his friend Peter Cushing.  As the evil wizard Saruman in Peter Jackson’s adaptations of JRR Tolkien’s’ THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT, Lee would come full-circle once again much like he did with Bond; he was the only cast member to have actually met Tolkien…making his casting in the films not only appropriate but it added another layer to his growing legend. 

And that legend grew even more outside of acting. He appeared and sang in operas and recorded heavy metal albums. He appeared on the cover of Paul McCartney & Wings’ 1973 album Band on the Run. He was the first actor to be inducted into the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. His devotion to charity and the advancement of the dramatic arts would earn him a knighthood in 2009. 


This Blogger, like many others, have grown up watching Christopher Lee. From vampires to detectives to madmen, from wizards to Jedi to men with golden guns, Lee may have been the face of evil and monsters…but that face was one of comfort; comfort knowing that the role he inhabited and the movie he was in would be better because of his dominating presence. Off the silver screen he exhibited a life fuller than most of the world can even dream of; from dedicated service and seeing and doing unspeakable things in the name of God and country, to a commitment to the arts and the industry which treated him so well. Christopher Lee may have been the face of evil, but his life was and is the standard of all that is good. 

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