It is with a heavy heart that we at FTN write this look back at the career of Sir Christopher Lee.
Sir Christopher sadly died on Sunday at Chelsea and Westminster hospital in London after being hospitalised for respiratory problems and heart failure; he was 93.
Lee was born in England in 1922 and spent some of his childhood in Switzerland before returning to England. When war broke out, he volunteered in 1939 to fight for Finland against the invading Soviet Union. Upon returning to England he joined the Royal Air Force, but due to his height and poor eyesight, he was unable to be a pilot and instead saw service in Military Intelligence.
Lee was a cousin to Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels. Indeed, Fleming actively encouraged the producers to give Lee the role of Dr No in the first big screen adaption of his novel. He eventually lost out to Joseph Wiseman but he would get his chance at being in a Bond movie in later years.
Lee was often asked by Fleming and others about his experiences in Military Intelligence – he always gave the same reply: “Can you keep a secret?” he would ask; “So Can I,” would be his eloquent but simple reply.
Due to his 6ft 4in slender frame, Lee found early work in film as stand-ins and various villain types. All of this changed, however, in 1957 when he signed a contract for Hammer Films; a small British studio that saw potential in the actor.
His first role was in The Curse of Frankenstein, but he struck true international stardom when he took on his next role as Dracula (above), with his good friend Peter Cushing in the role of Van Helsing. Donning the black cape, those menacing teeth and the iciest of stares, Lee brought life (or rather afterlife) into a role that he was made to play. For the next twenty years Hammer became his home and audiences screamed in horror and delight at the various roles he brought to the silver screen.
By the 1970s, Lee had become a massive star and appeared in various roles, from the chilling Dracula movies of Hammer, to the Pagan Lord Summerisle in the Wicker Man, to sword the wielding Cyclops Rochefort in The Musketeer movies. In 1974, audiences were flocking to the cinema to see him as the triple nippled assassin Scaramanga in Ian Fleming’s The Man With The Golden Gun (bottom). So powerful was his presence in this movie that over forty years later, fans still argue that he was the most challenging villain to James Bond!
With a work load that seemed to never end, causing Lee to turn down roles in Halloween and Ken Russell’s Tommy (both of which he later regretted), he kept audiences enthralled right through the 80s and 90s. These included a brilliantly comic turn as a mad scientist in Gremlins 2.
The millennium however changed Sir Christopher’s fanbase forever as he was cast in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings opus. Saruman, the evil wizard (above), was once again perfect casting as Sir Christopher, who had actually met J.R.R. Tolkien years earlier, brought fans flocking to the screen to see him once more. It was publicly known that he was angry at his scenes being left out of the third part of the trilogy, The Return of the King, that he blatantly refused to attend the premier; though fans still got to see him in the much loved extended editions.
From wielding a metal sword, fans, young and old, got to see Lee wield a lightsabre in the Star Wars prequel Attack of the Clones (above). Sir Christopher was involved in one of the most jaw dropping moments of the entire Star Wars Saga, as not only did we see him (for Christopher was over 80yrs old) as the evil Sith Lord Count Dooku, but to see him fight against Yoda, the legendary Jedi Master, was something that fans cheered loudly for through the screenings.
In the recent years, Lee showed no signs of slowing down and continued working on various television and film projects, one following the other. Most notably was the reappearance of Saruman in The Hobbit Trilogy.
Knighted by the Queen for services to entertainment, Sir Christopher Lee nearly always played the villain on screen, but was never lost the love of the public who saw him on stage, television and the silver screen.
“Acting Legend” is a term that has been used to describe many greats but, in this case, the words simply don’t seem to be enough.
Sir Christopher will garner new fans with each generation who view his work and, much like one of his most recognisable portrayls, he will live on in the afterlife in the hearts of all.
Sir Chirstopher Lee