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Christopher Lee

27.05.1922 - 07.06.2015

Christopher Lee

'Saruman is dead' - will he rise again as 'Count Dracula' - two characters from the film world that are inseparably synonymous with this great, much beloved actor who will be sadly missed globally!

Knight of the British Film and Theatre Industries

SIR Christopher Lee - Image courtesy of Mulholland/REX Shuttterstock

Christopher Lee Image thanks to Virgin Movies

Image courtesy of Virgin Movies

The Enduring Appeal of Christopher Lee

With grateful thanks to Virgin Movies for this pitch-perfect obituary:

Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee, CBE, CStJ (Venerable Order of Saint John, if you were wondering) celebrates ninety years of awesomeness on May 27th. To celebrate this achievement, we take a look at just some of the roles that have made the respected actor such an enduring legend.

Somewhere in New Zealand, Peter Jackson is working himself into even further weight loss preparing his first Lord Of The Rings prequel, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, for its December release. As you read these very words, it's not impossible that he's gazing in awe at Christopher Lee on his monitor, returning to the role that brought the actor to the attention of a new generation of cinemagoers: Saruman, Head of the White Council, nemesis of Gandalf and Finisher of All the Shampoo.

Glossy, flowing locks and tendencies towards the destruction of The Shire aside, Saruman was one of the keystones of Jackson's films' success, thanks to Christopher Lee's unique input. As the only cast member to have met JRR Tolkien, Lee's presence gave the project an air of authenticity that was only enhanced by his claim to have read the LOTR books every year.

Attempting to bring similar gravitas to his own fantasy trilogy, George Lucas subsequently recruited Lee to play Count Dooku in Star Wars Episodes II and III, and the actor's status as god of the fanboys was secured. And at six feet five, with a voice like honeyed thunder, it's surely not blasphemous to say that Christopher Lee may actually be God.

Before Middle Earth and Coruscant came calling, though, Lee spent over half a century carving out an astonishingly prolific acting career, averaging nearly four films a year during that time. Combining that with frequent TV appearances led to him entering the Guinness Book Of Records in 2001 as the star with the most screen appearances to his name. And what appearances they were; many have gone down as some of the most iconic performances in movie history.

In 1958 Lee played the eponymous toothy Count in Hammer Films' Dracula, and was so unforgettably perfect in the role that he soon became inseparable from the character in the public's eyes. He would play the voracious vampire several more times in films of varying quality, and as a result became a go-to bad guy for the rest of his career. Frankenstein's monster, the Mummy, Mr Hyde, Fu Manchu and various other monsters you wouldn't want your daughter bringing home would all resemble Christopher Lee at some point.

1973 saw Lee chewing up acres of gorgeous Scottish countryside as the enigmatic but barmy Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man, his favourite of his own films. His screen presence, mad hair and terrifying Cher impression led to another indelible performance, and Lee did it all for free to ensure the film got made.

The following year, he ticked another box on his "Ultimate Villains To Play Before I Die" list by starring in The Man With The Golden Gun as Scaramanga, James Bond's triple-nippled nemesis. Charming, deadly and a little bit pervy (no way is that golden gun not some kind of phallic symbol), Scaramanga was such a great Bond baddie that it was hard not to root for him to shoot 007's stupid eyebrows off his stupid face.

Iconic acting roles aside, Lee has also lent his silky bass tones to the music world in various guises. Most recently he performed on "symphonic metal concept album" Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross, which is every bit as insane as it sounds. Playing the eponymous Roman Emperor's ghost, Lee sings the medieval conqueror's tale to the haunting sound of two metal bands and a 100-piece orchestra, and if listening to it doesn't blow your mind enough, a follow-up album is on the way.

As Sir Christopher Lee enters his tenth decade, we doff our caps and hope that he spends many more birthdays as movie legend, national treasure and fantasy rock god, and vow to live by just one of the great man's own nuggets of wisdom: "One should try anything he can in his career, except folkdance and incest."

From the Daily Mail - stars pay tribute:

'It's terrible when you lose an old friend': Roger Moore leads tributes as Hammer Horror and Lord of the Rings star Sir Christopher Lee dies at 93

- Actor died in hospital after being treated for heart and respiratory problems
- He found fame as Dracula and later starred in Lord of the Rings trilogy
- Also appeared in a string of cult classics such as The Wicker Man
- Sir Christopher was married to his wife Birgit for more than half a century 

Film legend Sir Christopher Lee has died at the age of 93, prompting an outpouring of grief from Hollywood stars.

The actor - who found fame in the Hammer Horror films before becoming known to a new generation through his role in fantasy blockbusters - had been treated for heart failure and respiratory problems in hospital. He died at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London on Sunday morning after three weeks of treatment, but his widow decided to withhold the news until today so family and friends could be informed. His Bond co-star Roger Moore said: 'It's terrible when you lose an old friend, and Christopher Lee was one of my oldest. We first met in 1948.' Sir Christopher played Dracula in a series of classic films produced by Hammer Horror, and played Bond villain Scaramanga in 1974's The Man With the Golden Gun, starring Mr Moore.

In later life, he kept himself in the public eye with his roles in Lord of the Rings, where he played evil wizard Saruman, and the Star Wars prequels. Some of his most acclaimed performances came in cult films - Sir Christopher starred in The Wicker Man, about a remote community living on a Scottish island, and Jinnah, a biopic about the founder of Pakistan.  After the news broke today, stars and fans paid tribute to the actor whose influence spanned several generations thanks to his more than 200 films.

Jonathan Ross said: 'So sad to hear that Sir Christopher Lee has died. A great actor, a great star, a surprisingly good singer and a lovely lovely man.'

Comedian Omid Djalili wrote on Twitter: 'Scared the living daylights out of me for years. And I loved him for it. RIP Christopher Lee.'

And Boris Johnson added: 'Really sad to hear about the death of Christopher Lee, one of the greatest British actors and a master of the macabre.'

David Cameron made a reference to the death of Ron Moody, who famously played Fagin, saying: 'I'm saddened by the deaths of Sir Christopher Lee and Ron Moody. Both starred in films that are treasured by millions.'

His Lord of the Rings co-star Dominic Monaghan wrote: 'So so sorry to hear that Christopher Lee has passed away. He was a fascinating person. Threw a Bic pen into a tree in front of me.' 

Sir Christopher was married for 54 years to Birgit Kroencke, a Danish former model. The couple have one daughter, Christina. He served in the Special Forces during the Second World War, but always refused to discuss what he had done during the war, saying he was bound by an oath of secrecy.  The actor hinted at his military expertise during the filming of a gory scene in Lord of the Rings, when he asked director Peter Jackson: 'Peter, have you ever heard the sound a man makes when he’s stabbed in the back? Well, I have, and I know what to do.' As well as his acclaimed acting career, he had a sideline as a heavy metal singer, releasing four albums in the past two decades, two of which were concept albums about the medieval emperor Charlemagne.

He also unmasked himself as an unlikely Tory in later life, speaking out in support of Michael Howard, William Hague and David Cameron. 

Sir Christopher's appearance in Lord of the Rings was the culmination of a life-long dream - he was such a fan of the books that he read them every year, and had once met J.R.R. Tolkien. His only regret was that he was be that time too old to play Gandalf, a more energetic role, and had to settle for the portrayal of the powerful but twisted 'white wizard' Saruman. Sir Christopher was awarded the CBE in 2001, and was knighted six years ago for services to drama and charity, although due to his age he was excused from the duty to kneel. His final film appearance is set to be in Angels of Notting Hill, a comedy about the clash of the everyday with celestial beings. The actor refused to retire even in his 90s, once saying: 'When I die I want to die with my boots on.'

From Prince of Darkness to knight of the realm: The remarkable life and times of Christopher Lee


With his piercing eyes, booming voice and chilling presence, Sir Christopher Lee will be forever immortalised as the Prince of Darkness. His menacing charisma established him early on as one of the film industry’s world-class villains and he went on to star in more than 260 movies before his death at 93. Sir Christopher brought a demonic intensity to all his roles and became a household name playing notorious villains including Dracula, Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun, Saruman in the Lord Of The Rings, and Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels.

Hammer Films gave him his big break when they cast him as the creature in 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein. His remarkable mime performance as the brain-damaged monster convinced the studio to cast him in his definitive role as the Count in Dracula. Suddenly Sir Christopher was a bankable star. Concerned at being typecast in blood-curdling roles and wanting to break free from his image of Dracula, he agreed to star in the 1973 film, The Wicker Man, for free and considers it one of his greatest roles.

He was knighted for services to drama and charity in 2009 and received a BAFTA Fellowship in 2011.

The Hammer Films icon was also presented with a prized British Film Institute Fellowship by his Sleepy Hollow co-star, Johnny Depp, at the 2013 London Film Festival. Depp described him as a 'national treasure' and said working with Lee was a 'childhood dream come true'. Often hailed as 'legendary', Sir Christopher once joked: 'To be a legend, you've either got to be dead or excessively old.'

Standing at an imposing height of 6ft 5in, the world champion fencer did all of his own stunts and holds a Guinness World Record for participating in more on-screen sword fights than any actor in history. Fluent in English, Italian, French, Spanish and German, he added to his impressive resume by providing the voice-over for many films and video games, including cult classic The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Sir Christopher also used his resonant and unmistakable tones to record several musical works and said he would rather have been an opera singer than anything else. He became the oldest person ever to record lead vocals on a heavy metal track when he released a progressive symphonic power metal EP about the life of Charlemagne at the age of 88. By the Sword and the Cross was so well received that he was honoured with the Spirit of Metal award in the 2010 Metal Hammer Golden God awards ceremony.

His career and unusual home life was recounted with self-deprecating wit in his autobiography, Lord of Misrule. The book gives the reader a privileged glimpse into his upbringing and family life, revealing that he is descended from papal nobility. His mother, Contessa Estelle Marie, was a famous Edwardian beauty who was painted by Sir John Lavery, Oswald Birley and Olive Snell. Sir Christopher was happily married to Danish model Birgit Kroencke for 53 years and they had a daughter named Christina Erika Carandini Lee.

Before breaking into the film industry, he served in the Royal Air Force and intelligence services during the Second World War. He was tasked with helping to track down Nazi war criminals in 1945 when he was seconded to the Central Registry of War Criminals and Security Suspects. Sworn to secrecy, Sir Christopher has been guarded about disclosing any details of his work in military intelligence. He said: ‘When people say to me, you know - were you in this? Were you in that? Did you work in this? Did you work in that? I always used to say ‘Can you keep a secret?’ And they would say 'Yes, yes' and I would say "So can I".’

Although he will probably be most remembered for his portrayal of a bloodsucking vampire, the true story of his life is actually more strange and fascinating than any of the films he starred in.

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