RIP: Sir Christopher Lee

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Sir Christopher Lee, master of horror and magic and the Force, has passed away at age 93.

Known more recently for his roles as Count Dooku in the Star Wars franchise, along with the wizard Saruman in The Lord of the Rings, Lee made his place in film history with his distinctive performances as Count Dracula early in his career. Prior to that, he appeared as Frankenstein’s Monster opposite fellow Star Wars villain Peter Cushing in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) for Hammer Films. Lee went on to play Dracula for Hammer ten different times, his first appearance being 1958’s Horror of Dracula.

Lee passed away at 8:30am Sunday morning at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London. His wife, Birgit Kroencke Lee, delayed releasing the news until all family members and friends could be notified. The couple had been married for over 50 years and had one daughter, Christina.

Lee considered The Wicker Man to be his best horror work, saying, “Wonderful film… had a hell of a time getting it made,” he said. “Its power lies in the fact that you never expect what eventually happens, because everyone is so nice.”

Besides his genre villains, of course, there is Bond villain Francisco Scaramanga in The Man With a Golden Gun, considered one of the more three-dimensional villains in the Bond franchise. Incidentally, Lee was a step-cousin of Bond author Ian Fleming.

Roger Moore, who played Bond opposite Lee, posted on his Twitter account: “It’s terribly when you lose an old friend, and Christopher Lee was one of my oldest. We first met in 1948.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron called Lee a “titan of the Golden Age of Cinema”, and London’s mayor Boris Johnson also posted his condolences on Twitter.

In 2009, the veteran actor was knighted for services to drama and charity, and he received the BAFTA fellowship in 2011. The BAFTA was given to him by director Tim Burton, who collaborated with Lee on Sleepy Hollow, Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, and Dark Shadows.

Returning to horror in 2011, Lee worked with Hilary Swank in The Resident, after many years avoiding the genre. “There have been some absolutely ghastly films recently, physically repellent,” he said. “What we did was fantasy, fairy tales – no real person can copy what we did. But they can do what Hannibal Lecter does, if they’re so inclined, people like Jeffrey Dahmer and Dennis Nilsen, and for that reason, I think such films are dangerous.”

Lee also appeared in the original British TV version of The Tomorrow People, and played both Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace) and brother Mycroft (The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes).

Aside from his acting career, Lee also found modest success as a heavy metal artist, releasing a mini-album called Metal Knight when he was 92 years old. With several albums released, he was a long-time fan of heavy metal. “I associate heavy metal with fantasy because of the tremendous power that the music delivers,” he explained. In 2010, Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi presented Lee with the Spirit of Metal prize at the Golden Gods Awards for his services to metal music, a genre partially inspired by the horror genre of film.

Lee’s autobiography Tall, Dark and Gruesome was published in 1977 and republished in 1999; a revised and expanded edition called Lord of Misrule was issued in 2004.

He is survived by his wife Birgit, daughter Christina, and a niece, British actress Harriet Walter.

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Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

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