Christopher Lee, 1922 – 2015

We are saddened to report the passing of actor Sir Christopher Lee. He was 93 years old.

Lee was born on May 27, 1922, and took to the stage almost immediately, playing Rumpelstiltskin in grade school. After service in World War II, he began seeking work as a professional actor, and spent about a decade playing supporting roles, and ended up appearing in over 30 films during this “apprenticeship” period. He also made his first appearance beside frequent co-star Peter Cushing when he played a ‘spear carrier’ role in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, while Cushing played Osric. In 1957 he again appeared with Cushing, this time playing the monster in The Curse of Frankenstein in his first film for Hammer Studios. Finally, in 1958, Lee came to the role that would make him famous: Dracula in The Horror of Dracula. He continued to play the character for the next 15 years, despite the fact that he felt the role gave him “nothing to do” as an actor.

In 1973 he made the film that would become his personal favorite, the horror classic The Wicker Man. He loved the script (and the role of Lord Summerisle) so much that he performed in the film for free. He began edging away from horror films after that, appearing as Bond villain Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun, and finally moving to America to try for a larger variety of roles.

In the 2000s he gave two iconic performances in two different science fiction and fantasy franchises. He played a chilling and powerful Saruman in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, and did most of his own swordplay as Count Dooku in George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel trilogy. These two roles introduced him to a whole new audience of younger science fiction and fantasy fans. He also played several roles for Tim Burton, including Willy Wonka’s dentist father, in Burton’s adaptation of Dahl’s classic, and the Jabberwocky in Alice in Wonderland. He also reprised his role as Saruman when Jackson adapted The Hobbit into a trilogy. An accomplished singer, Lee also recorded a trilogy of heavy metal albums between 2012 and 2014.

Lee was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire “for services to Drama” in 2001. In 2009 he was knighted for services to drama and charity, and in 2011, Lee was honored with a tribute by University College Dublin on the 164th anniversary of the birth of Bram Stoker. He was awarded the Bram Stoker Gold Medal by the Trinity College Philosophical Society, of which Stoker was President, and a copy of Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James by Trinity College’s School of English. Also in 2011, he was made a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by the government of France.

Christopher Lee was one of the highest grossing actors of all time, he created iconic performances in some of the greatest genre films of all time, and gave audiences a new definition of horror with his chilling voice. He was an indispensable part of the film community, and he will be greatly missed.

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