Dan Wealands pays tribute to late Sir Christopher Lee, whose career was littered with some of the most memorable screen villains of all time.
Sir Christopher Lee has just died at the age of 93. The star, who’s legacy spans several decades of film, is most well remembered for his iconic portrayal of Count Dracula in a string of highly successful films for the Hammer studios in the 1970s.
Born Christopher Frank Carandini Lee on 27 May 1922, in the upmarket Belgravia area of London, his father was a Colonel in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps and his mother was a noted Edwardian beauty, the Contessa Estelle Marie Carandini di Sarzano, whose image had been painted and sculpted by a number of artists.
Lee had already chalked up 50 film appearances when, in 1957, he was signed by Hammer Films who were about to embark on a string of remakes of classic horror stories. The first of which to feature Lee was The Curse of Frankenstein in which he played the monster opposite the man who would become his greatest friend, Peter Cushing. The pair would meet again on screen a year later in The Horror of Dracula, with Lee in the title role and Cushing as his nemesis Van Helsing.
Lee’s relationship with Hammer continued to flourish and saw him portray a wide range of memorable characters in films such as Rasputin the Mad Monk, The Mummy and as Sir Henry in the Sherlock Holmes adaptaion The Hound of the Baskervilles.
In 1973, Lee gave what he believed to be his finest performance as Lord Summerisle in the now cult classic The Wicker Man. The following year he was cast as the Bond villain Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun; this was the second time that Lee was considered for a role in the Bond franchise having been put forward for the role of Dr. No by none other than Ian Fleming himself, Lee’s second cousin.
Lee continued to make films and appear in numerous television shows across the ensuing decades, adding notable titles such as Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series to his C.V., in which he was the voice of Death, and in the BBC production of Gormenghast in which he played the stoic manservant Flay. Modern audiences will mostly know Lee for his roles as the nefarious Saruman in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit films as well as being the evil Sith Lord Count Dooku in the prequel trilogy of George Lucas’s Star Wars.
Beyond film Lee also had a successful career in the music industry with a string of heavy metal albums. His first complete metal album was Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross, which was critically acclaimed and awarded with the “Spirit of Metal” award from the 2010 Metal Hammer Golden Gods ceremony. He followed this up with a second album, Charlemagne: The Omens of Death and three EPs as well, two of which were Christmas albums titled A Heavy Metal Christmas and A Heavy Metal Christmas Too. With the song Jingle Hell, Lee entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart at #22, thus becoming the oldest living performer to ever enter the music charts, at 91 years and 6 months.
Yet despite these many achievements, to many he will always be best remembered as the fiendish Count Dracula, the role which initially launched him into the spotlight almost 60 years ago.