Well, we lost another great old actor. Christopher Lee passed away on Sunday. To me, he will always be Count Dracula from the Hammer House series of horror movies. But the actor was much more than just another vampire.
He was almost mystical from birth. His father was a British army officer who had served in the Boer War and his mother was Contessa Estelle Marie Carandini di Sarzano. He attended Wellington College, an elite boarding school, and joined the Royal Air Force during World War II. Poor eyesight prevented him from becoming a pilot, and he served as an intelligence officer in North Africa and Italy. His mother also remarried, to Harcourt Rose, the uncle of James Bond creator Ian Fleming.
In 1957, he made his move to Hammer and played Frankenstein’s Monster. It was a year later that he did the first of six films as the famous Count Dracula. He played opposite his long time friend Peter Cushing who played Van Helsing.
Lee brought a new feel to the vampire, and went on to convinced a generation of scholars that Dracula was a book about sex, and not about vampires. His Dracula was considered “rough and muscular”. He appeared in many Hammer productions including a role as Sir Henry Baskerville in The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Then in the 1970’s, he left Hammer Studios. He hated the idea of being typecast. It was then he took on the role of Fu Manchu in a few movies along with his favorite performance as Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man. Then, in 1974 he took the role of Francisco Scaramanga in The Man With the Golden Gun.
Lee said of his performance, “In Fleming’s novel he’s just a West Indian thug, but in the film he’s charming, elegant, amusing, lethal… I played him like the dark side of Bond.” Lee continued making films during the 80s and 90s. He was offered the part of Dr. Loomis in Halloween and always regretted not taking it. Then, moving into the 2000s he was offered another role which he turned down, as Magneto in the X-Men film. But he still found the time for two of his most memorable roles.
In 2001 he appeared first as Saruman, the evil wizard in the epic Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Not one to rest on his laurels, in 2002 he took the role of Count Dooku in another iconic film series, Star Wars.
Interestingly, he had always wanted to play Gandolf. When the film came around, he had to admit he was too old for the strenuous part and took Saruman instead. Another interesting note, he actually met J.R.R. Tolkien once and made a habit of reading the books once a year. He also had a part in 5 collaborations with Tim Burton, one being the voice of the Jabberwocky in Alice in Wonderland and another being 2012’s Dark Shadows.
Lee spoke fluent English, Italian, French, Spanish and German, and was moderately proficient in Swedish, Russian and Greek. He could also carry a conversation in Mandarin Chinese. In 2006, he bridged two disparate genres of music by performing a heavy metal variation of the Toreador Song from the opera Carmen with the band Inner Terrestrials. In December 2012, he released an EP of heavy metal covers of Christmas songs called A Heavy Metal Christmas.
He was knighted by Prince Charles, but because of his age he was excused the usual requirement to kneel and received the knighthood whilst standing. Lee was named 2005’s ‘most marketable star in the world’ in a USA Today newspaper poll, after three of the films he appeared in grossed $640 million.
Lee was introduced to Danish painter and former model Birgit “Gitte” Krøncke in 1960. They were engaged soon after and married on March17, 1961 and had a daughter, Christina Erika Carandini Lee in 1963.
A truly remarkable man has left this world now. I thank you Mr. Lee for sending shivers along my spine, for showing me what a true villain is like and for bringing your unique talents to a pair of classic characters.