People use the term “legend” a lot. However, very few people actually embody the true meaning of that word. I would further argue that even fewer people can have that word applied to them as aptly as Sir Christopher Lee. This extraordinary actor just celebrated his 93rd birthday a few weeks ago on May 27th. He had evidently been hospitalized shortly thereafter with heart and respiratory problems and passed away on Sunday at 8:30am while in hospital. His wife, Birgit Kroencke, held off on making the news of Lee’s death public until all family and close friends had been told. Lee had been married to the former Danish model for nearly 53 years. When someone had once asked him the secret to his long marriage, Sir Christopher replied: “Marry someone wonderful.”
As an aspiring actor myself, looking at Lee’s resume leaves me in absolute awe. His first acting role came in school when he performed in “Rumpelstiltskin” as the titular character. Amazingly, he would continue to play the villain in roughly 85% of the 200+ movies in which he performed! Perhaps it was his impressive height of 6’5 or his mesmerizing eyes and wicked grin. Or perhaps it was just that he enjoyed playing the heavy. He once remarked that “…the best lines are given to the baddies and these make the most impact on the audience – especially if there is some pathos in their situation.” In 1948, Lee made his film debut in ‘Corridor Of Mirrors’ and he has consistently put our at least 1 movie a year ever since (with one or two exceptions)!! In fact, just in 1970 alone, Sir Christopher filmed 10 separate movies!! It should therefore come as no surprise that he holds the record for the most screen credits for a living actor. In addition to this, he also held the record for the tallest actor in a leading role (a role he now shares thanks to a tie with Vince Vaughn). Records he does not share with anyone would be Most Films With A Swordfight By An Actor, Oldest Person To Release A Heavy Metal Album (which you can actually purchase at amazon.com), Oldest Videogame Voice Actor as well as Most Connected Actor Living according to the Oracle Of Kevin Bacon website at the University of Virginia!
Not only was he a phenomenal talent, he also was envied by nearly everyone for the roles which he got to take on over his illustrious career. He played Fu Manchu, Count Dracula (several times), a Bond-Villain (The Man With The Golden Gun), a Sith Lord (Star Wars) and Saruman in the iconic Lord Of The Rings trilogy. He also is one of the few actors to portray three different Sherlock Holmes characters (Sherlock Holmes, Mycroft Holmes and Sir Henry Baskerville). And then there are the pantheon of famous directors with whom he worked. Such names as Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Peter Jackson, Tim Burton, Joe Dante, Billy Wilder, Laurence Olivier, Terrence Fisher and John Landis just to name a few. There may never be an actor of his caliber and certainly not one with a resume like his for another 50 years.
Not only did he have a spectacular career, but he had quite the impressive personal life as well. His great-grandparents on his mother’s side founded the first Australian opera company. His father was a member of the 60th King’s Royal Rifle Corps and his mother was an Italian Countess (The Carandini Family which means that Lee is from noble blood.) He was a classically trained singer and even once said that if he wasn’t an actor, he’d want to be an opera singer. He joined the RAF in WWII and served in various intelligence roles throughout the war and later served in the Central Registry Of War Criminals and Security Suspects which took him to many concentration camps throughout Europe. He began acting after the war and got his first paid gig on a BBC show called ‘Kaleidoscope’ which aired late in 1946. His first movie role came less than a year later and he never looked back! Some interesting trivia is that he is actually a cousin and was a frequent golfing partner of the creator of James Bond, Ian Fleming. He is also the only cast member of the entire ‘Lord Of The Ring’ trilogy to ever meet J.R.R. Tolkien. Originally Lee was offered the role of Grand Moff Tarkin in the very first “Star Wars” movie but he turned down the part (which ended up going to his dear friend, Peter Cushing). He also turned down the role of Dr. Sam Loomis in the ‘Halloween’ franchise which ended up going to another Bond-Villain, Donald Pleasence. Turning down this role was, in Lee’s own words, his biggest mistake. (But what is missing out on 3 or 4 movies out of a career spanning 200+ films, eh?) In addition to making his own heavy metal music, he also is featured on the cover of Paul McCartney’s 1973 album “Band On The Run” and the white coffin that he used in one of his Dracula films is the same one used in the Bananarama video “Venus.” As if all of this wasn’t enough, he was also able to speak French, German, Italian and Spanish and claims that he can get by with his Greek, Russian and Swedish. No wonder he was 6’5. How else are you going to cram all of that talent, class, charm, sophistication and just generally bad-assery into a normal sized person’s frame?!?
Truly, as can be seen by the outpouring of emotion, sadness and affection by those who knew him, his loss has been deeply felt. Sir Christopher was recorded as once saying: “One day, I hope somebody will sum up my career thus: ‘He was different.’ That would satisfy me.” The word “different” is certainly applicable but hardly does this cinematic titan justice. As I said at the beginning, the word that certainly suits a man of his character, demeanor, warmth and talent would have to be “legend.” And so with that, we say R.I.P. to Sir Christopher Lee. To quote Dracula’s creator Bram Stoker: “Loneliness will sit over our roofs with brooding wings.”