RIP Christopher Lee

by Grania Spingies

Christopher Lee has passed away at the very respectable age of 93, and what a life it’s been.

In recent years his portrayal of Saruman the White in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy made him a household name to a new generation, but of course he was also a veteran of countless Hammer Horror movies and was the iconic Count Dracula in many of them. His voice gave his roles the sort of gravitas that made him impossible to ignore.

Dracula

saruman

The movie that I think was probably his finest was The Wicker Man (1973) where he was just the right combination of authoritative voice of reason and coldly calculating cult leader.

wicker man 1973

I was told when I bought the movie that it was a frightening horror film, but I found myself grinning in delight most of the way through it. Perhaps I am a psychopath, but more likely it is just a superbly crafted and performed film.

He was also a veteran of World War II, something that he elaborated on a bit in the DVD extras of LOTR, when he calmly tutored his director on what someone being stabbed in the back really sounds like. It was a whole other life and career before acting made him famous.

He was not however, at all glib about that experience:

lee quote

A remarkable person and a remarkable life.

 

 

 

39 Comments

  1. Jeff Rankin
    Posted June 11, 2015 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    I think he felt he was typecast by the role, but he was my favorite Dracula. He appeared in a number of Hammer horror films with his friend (and another Star Wars veteran) Peter Cushing – almost always to great, or at least fun, effect.

    • darrelle
      Posted June 11, 2015 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      I have always thought that Grand Moff Tarkin was hands down the best villian of the Star Wars franshise.

      • Sciencefictionfan
        Posted June 12, 2015 at 9:37 am | Permalink

        Grand Moff Tarkin, yes!
        Cold, ruthless, calculating. Hell, he could even hold Darth Vader on the leash! No other Imperial Officer would dare this. 😄

        • nightgaunt49
          Posted June 12, 2015 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

          GMT was played by his friend and college Peter Cushing not Christopher Lee who was the renegade Jedi turned Sith Count Dukoo in the first in order series and the CGI Clone Wars movie.

          • Posted June 12, 2015 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

            Yes, I think we all know that. Jeff did mention Cushing earlier!

            /@

  2. eric
    Posted June 11, 2015 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    RIP.
    I too liked the ’70s Wicker Man. Maybe not scary but definitely creepy and a good horror film because of that. It was as good as the remake was bad.

    • Mark R.
      Posted June 11, 2015 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, great film…the remake was horrible.

      • Posted June 12, 2015 at 7:42 am | Permalink

        I really liked The Wicker Man, I didn’t remember that he was the actor in it.

  3. nickswearsky
    Posted June 11, 2015 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    One of the greats! I read elsewhere: “If Death is not too timid to tap Christopher Lee, then we have no chance.” Also, many are wondering if he will indeed remain dead!

    • nightgaunt49
      Posted June 12, 2015 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      He was in one of the more supernatural “Alfred Hitchcock Hour episodes about a Satanic Cult from Europe.

      Another giant that we will all miss.

  4. Heather Hastie
    Posted June 11, 2015 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    He was a wonderful actor. I was never into the Hammer films, but he always looked and sounded right as Dracula. It is as Saruman I will always remember him.

  5. Mark R.
    Posted June 11, 2015 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    RIP Mr. Lee
    I’ll never forget the Hammer Horror films as a kid- absolutely loved them! I remember being under the covers many nights after scarring the crap out of myself watching Creature Features (which showed all the best Hammer films).

  6. Sean
    Posted June 11, 2015 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Also a bond villain! Scaramanga in the Man with the Golden Gun !

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francisco_Scaramanga

  7. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 11, 2015 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    He apparently knew Tolkien’s writings more thoroughly than any other actor in “Lord of the Rings” and had some input into the films.

    He appeared in recordings of music based on Tolkien’s song lyrics by the Tolkien Ensemble, in which he ironically voiced Treebeard (and others) who is the nemesis of his Jackson-movie character, Saruman.

    He frequently was paired with Peter Cushing. Oddly, one of their most interesting pairings is one in which neither is a villain. It is a version of “Hound of the Baskervilles” which had Cushing as Sherlock Holmes, and Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville.

    Their first film together was actually Olivier’s Hamlet in which Lee is an uncredited extra and Cushing plays Osric.
    Both actors appeared in Star Wars films, but not the same ones.

  8. Posted June 11, 2015 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Truly. I just saw this quote from him on Heather’s FB wall. It’s a moving quote and I feel fortunate that I will never have to find out whether I have the kind of strength required to fight in a war and watch comrades (and “enemies”) maimed and killed. Seems like he made the most of his 90 years!

  9. atheist in a foxhole
    Posted June 11, 2015 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    The. Best. Dracula. Ever.

    I love his Hammer films. And if anyone ever has the guts to make a new version of LoTR, no one will be able to match him as Saruman.

    I’ve seen The Wicker man long ago as a kid. Now I feel the need to buy a DVD or Blu-ray of the original and watch it again in memoriam.

    And another great thing about him…I think he just broke the internet. I ran a search for a biography of him just now and my T10 connection here at work is choking on everything Christopher Lee. But any other links work fine.

    He was a truly accomplished actor. Just check out his bio at imdb:

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000489/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm

    I’ll miss his acting. Best wishes to his family and friends in their time of mourning.

  10. Dave
    Posted June 11, 2015 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    As if he wasn’t cool enough already, he was apparently also quite an accomplished heavy metal vocalist, and even made his own metal album at the age of 90(ish)

    Respect is most certainly due!

    • darrelle
      Posted June 11, 2015 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      Did not know that. Very interesting. His voice is (sadly, was) suited for something like that. He could have founded a new metal sub-genre.

      Shakespearean Metal perhaps?

      A couple of other actors with voices I love to listen to are James Earl Jones (anything at all) and Benedict Cumberbatch (for example, as Kahn).

      • Posted June 11, 2015 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        Lee sang on The Magic of the Wizards Dream by Rhapsody as well as narrating some of their songs (e.g Unholy Warcry) as well as working with Manowar.

        He made a full length album based on Charlemagne the knight who he thought he was related to.

        The word legend was invented for people like Lee.

        • Doug
          Posted June 11, 2015 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

          This is trivial, but I’ll toss it in: he’s one of the convicts on the cover of Paul McCartney’s “Band on the Run” album. James Coburn’s on there too.

        • Posted June 12, 2015 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

          Ah, yes; I was going to mention his work with Rhapsody [of Fire].

          /@

        • Todd Steinlage
          Posted June 13, 2015 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

          That is totally badass! He had such an amazing voice. Rhapsody (later “Rhapsody of Fire”) is a great band, thanks for turning me on to them \m/ 🙂

  11. Pikaia
    Posted June 11, 2015 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Christopher Lee on Evolution:

    • Jeff Rankin
      Posted June 11, 2015 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      “It’s a fact, and there’s no morality in a fact.”

      Boom! That’s a fun movie by the way, and the full version is also on youtube. Also stars Peter Cushing.

  12. Randy Schenck
    Posted June 11, 2015 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    He was the best Dracula by far…

    • gunnerkee19
      Posted June 11, 2015 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      It is heartening to see so many fans of Lee’s portrayal of Dracula, which was a shocking and ferocious depiction that both drained and captured my heart when I first came upon it as a young lover of monster lore.

  13. Posted June 11, 2015 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    And free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman the same day.

  14. eTourist
    Posted June 11, 2015 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    Dracula, a light weight.

    Lee was the voice of Death himself in the animated versions of Terry Pratchett’s novels, Wyrd Sisters and Soul Music.

    • reasonshark
      Posted June 12, 2015 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      And in the live-action adaptation of The Colour of Magic on Sky. Now, I can’t read Death’s voice in the books without hearing his imperious tones, because he’s simply unmatched.

      Here’s to a brilliant actor. *chink*

  15. Macha
    Posted June 12, 2015 at 2:35 am | Permalink

    He also released a heavy metal rock album in his 90’s

    Now that is really something.

  16. Mike
    Posted June 12, 2015 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    RIP Christopher Lee, one of our greatest Actors sadly underated I think because of his work with Hammer Horror, he made Dracula his own. as well as being a good Actor he was very cultured and spoke at least 6 Languages and as one who is totally monolingual I am in awe.

  17. Sciencefictionfan
    Posted June 12, 2015 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    RIP, Sir Christopher Lee!
    He was an great actor, although he was sometimes underrated because of his many so-called “B-Movies”
    I was very surprised in my youth, as I learned, that he did the German dubbing of King Haggard in “The Last Unicorn”. Do you know of another British/US-actor, who did German dubbing?

  18. Posted June 12, 2015 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    A talent for the ages …

  19. revelator60
    Posted June 12, 2015 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Art imitates life: since Christopher Lee played Dracula, I doubt he’ll remain dead for long.

    • Posted June 15, 2015 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Well, we’ve known since at least _Forest Gump_ that one can be a computational-cinematic necromancer…

  20. Diane G.
    Posted June 12, 2015 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    The end of an era.


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