A man particularly suited to being called “legendary” has passed into history.
After ninety-three illustrious years, the world now mourns the loss of Sir Christopher Lee.
Perhaps best known for his multiple appearances on screen as Count Dracula, there was much, much more to the man than his highly popular, sinister, and provocative portrayal of the Lord of the Vampires.
Prior to his film career, Lee had already lived a life of near-storybook proportions. His father, Geoffrey Trollope Lee, was a lieutenant colonel in the Royal Army, a veteran of both the Boer Wars and World War I; his mother, Contessa Estelle Marie (née Carandini di Sarzano), was an Italian countess, so renowned for her beauty that her likeness was captured by artists Sir John Lavery , Oswald Birley, and Olive Snell, as well as sculpted by Clare Frewen Sheridan. He was the cousin of Ian Fleming (creator of James Bond), with whom he served in the Special Operations Executive (SOE; the progenitor of the modern SAS) during World War II. During this service, Lee was a highly decorated military man, with a list of honors and achievements far too long to list here.
It was after all of this that he got into acting as a full-time profession, bringing such a lifetime of experience to his performances. From his first major role as the mute creature in Hammer Film’s Curse of Frankenstein, Lee imbued the characters he played with integrity and an honesty often overlooked in horror films. Cited by many as the first to make Dracula “sexy”, his 6′ 5″ frame and baritone voice were used to great effect; though this commanding role greatly contributed to his often being cast in the role of the villain. Nonetheless, he relished in his craft, bringing us some of the most memorable bad guys in cinematic history, encompassing a broad spectrum of genres and characterizations. There was, of course, Dracula…Fu Manchu…Scaramunga, the titular Man With The Golden Gun from the James Bond film…the fanatical Lord Summerisle in the cult favorite The Wicker Man…to say nothing of his modern performances as Saruman the White in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, as well as the malevolent Count Dooku, also known as Darth Tyrannus, in the Star Wars prequel films….the list could literally go on for pages.
With a career spanning six decades and a dearth of appearances on stage and television as well as on the big screen, his is a presence in the world of cinema that will long be remembered.
Not to be pinned into one art form, Lee also was an accomplished singer, recording several heavy metal albums well into his eighth decade, using that deep, rich voice that chilled so many hearts over the years to thrill younger (and older) audiences with his thematic recordings. That same voice also made him sought after for voiceover work, where he can be heard as everything from characters in Disney video games to the mighty Jabberwock in Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland.
Multi-lingual (he fluently spoke English, Italian, French, Spanish and German, and was conversational in Swiss, Russian, and Greek), an accomplished fencer, golfer, and a voracious reader, Lee’s life is marked with a great distinction of culture and intellect, which shines both above and through his expansive and iconic career.
On a purely personal level, I feel a profound sense of loss at his passing; he was a major part of my childhood film-watching, and I grew up always excited to see him in newer and newer films, always impressed at his longevity and talent.
They just don’t make ’em like that anymore. He’ll be missed.