Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee, (1922-2015) was a veteran British actor who initially made his name playing villains - most famously Count Dracula in Hammer Horror films (although he was a hero in The Devil Rides Out). He became well known for his horror work, and was good friends with Vincent Price and Peter Cushing; the three were known as the "Unholy Trinity of Horror" for a while. During the 1970s, he also played Lord Summerisle in the original version of The Wicker Man and Francisco Scaramanga in the film version of one of his cousin (and war buddy, but more on that later) Ian Fleming's books, The Man With The Golden Gun. He's even been a leader of a gang of gay bikers in the satire on American life Serial. His piercing eyes and melodious bass voice made him instantly recognizable.
Although he never stopped acting, famous roles dried up a little during the 1980s and 1990s, until he returned with a vengeance, playing villains again in two of the most popular and influential movie series of the new century: Count Dooku in Star Wars and Saruman the White in The Lord of the Rings. He was the only member of the Lord of the Rings cast to have met the author in person and was an avid scholar of Tolkien's work (he apparently read the entire trilogy once every year), often advising Jackson and Boyens on some of the finer points of the backstory. He wanted to play the role of Gandalf but he felt he was too old for the role when the films were finally made. He has also had a cameo as a member of the
church hierarchy enemy faction in The Golden Compass, so that particular character would probably have turned out to be important had the sequels not been canned. (Lord Boreal, maybe?)
During World War II, Lee served with the Royal Air Force and intelligence service; he mentioned in the past that he also served with Special Operations Executive, as well as a secret agent unit called The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. The Ministry was set up by Churchill to "set Europe ablaze", and it included - among others - Christopher Lee and Ian Fleming, making it the obvious inspiration for the James Bond series. So there's a good reason that Lee was cast in one of the film versions.
During the filming of The Lord of the Rings, he disagreed with Peter Jackson over certain aspects of his character's death scene, insinuating that he knows firsthand the sound a man makes when he's stabbed in the back (see Reality Is Unrealistic). Take that as you will.
While known primarily as an actor, Lee also trained as an operatic bass-baritone singer. Some things you just can't make up. In 2010 he came out with a metal album, called Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross. Some things are just too awesome for words. Oh, and he head-bangs: ‘I do head-banging every day,’ he said. ‘Exercising my neck muscles is good for my back. I can do it with or without music.' By the Sword and the Cross has a follow up called Charlemagne: The Omens of Death, released on May 27, 2012 (Sir Christopher's 90th birthday).
He was born on the same day as Vincent Price, and Peter Cushing was born the day before. Pretty... spooky. He was knighted on October 31, 2009 (that's right folks, Halloween). While this does not make him more excellent per se, it was most assuredly long overdue. Everyone, please say, Sir Christopher Lee.
Alas, he passed away on June 7, 2015 at the age of 93 from respiratory problems and heart failure. His legacy, however, continues to endure.
It is interesting to note that, despite his long and illustrious career, Lee had never even been nominated for an Oscar, but that reflects more on the Academy than him. He has, however, won the 2011 BAFTA Fellowship. He is also as of this writing the most prolific film actor ever, having appeared in 274 different works.
- Count Magnus Lee, the villain of the first Vampire Hunter D novel and movie, was named after him.
- He also acts as the wizard Iras Algor, in Rhapsody of Fire's epic The Dark Secret saga.
- He was an uncredited stunt driver in The Man with the Golden Gun, in addition to playing the title role.
- He is an expert fencer, and has appeared in more swashbuckling films than any other actor - almost invariably as the villain.
- The Guinness Book of World Records listed him as the world's "Tallest Leading Actor" at 6'5". He lost a bit of that height to old age, falling second to Vince Vaughn. Stephen Fry takes the bronze at 6'4".
- An awesome Cunning Linguist, Lee was fluent in English, Italian, French, Spanish and German, "moderately proficient" in Swedish, Russian and Greek, and "conversational" in Mandarin Chinese. He's even said to have spoken the dark tongue of Mordor.
- As of April 2010, Christopher Lee was the most prolific actor in history, having appeared in more films than any other person in the world, living or dead. (IMDB lists over 250 acting credits.) As a result, according to the Oracle of Bacon it is he, and not Kevin Bacon, who is the true center of the Hollywood Universe. Despite this fact, the trope-related attribute is still named the Bacon Number and not the Lee Number. Having said that, Lee Number just doesn't sound as funny as Bacon Number, so this is excusable.
- He is a direct descendant of Charlemagne. Hence the metal album.
- When he arrived on the set of Gremlins 2, he apologized to director Joe Dante for appearing in The Howling II, a bad sequel to Dante's original Howling.
- Was asked to play Doctor Loomis in the original Halloween, but turned down the offer. Has subsequently stated he deeply regrets this.
- His favorite role (note, Role, not Movie) is that of (The elder) Muhammed Ali Jinnah (The Founder of Pakistan) in the Biopic Jinnah. Watch it here. Its an awesome film, and a pretty good POV Sequel to Gandhi.
- It may not be his favourite movie, but he did everything in his power to promote The Wicker Man, offering to pay the ticket price for critics to get them to review it, and touring America in an effort to get people to go and see it.
Film - Live-Action
- The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) --
Frankenstein's MonsterThe Creature
- Horror of Dracula (1958) -- His debut as the eponymous count.
- Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) -- His second-to-last appearance as Dracula.
- The Wicker Man (1973) -- Lord Summerisle.
- The Three Musketeers 1973 and The Four Musketeers (1974) -- Rochefort
- The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) -- Francisco Scaramanga, the man with the titular firearm.
- 1941 (1979) -- Capt. Wolfgang von Kleinschmidt
- The Return of Captain Invincible (1983) -- Mr. Midnight
- Howling II (1985) -- Stefan Crosscoe
- Treasure Island (1990) -- Blind Pew
- Gremlins 2 The New Batch (1990) -- Dr. Catheter
- Police Academy: Mission to Moscow (1994) -- Cmndt. Alexandrei Nikolaivich Rakov
- Sleepy Hollow (1999) -- Burgomaster
- The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001 - 2003) -- Saruman the White
- Star Wars Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005) -- Count Dooku
- Crimson Rivers 2: Angels of the Apocalypse (2004) -- Heinrich von Garten
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) -- Dr. Wonka
- Corpse Bride (2005) -- Pastor Galswells
- The Golden Compass (2007) -- First High Councilor
- Alice in Wonderland (2010) -- Jabberwocky
- Hugo (2011) -- Monsieur Labisse
- He has been the narrator on several Rhapsody of Fire's songs, and he even sings in The Magic of the Wizard's Dream. In four different languages This amount of awesome cannot be made up!
- He's now narrating Manowar's next album.
- His symphonic metal album Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross featured a full voice cast, two metal bands (Manowar and Rhapsody of Fire), and a 100 piece orchestra. And it is glorious.
- He has also had several speaking and singing parts in At Dawn in Rivendell and Leaving Rivendell: two albums collecting various poems and songs from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Calling him an Ascended Fanboy doesn't even come close.
- He voiced King Haggard in The Last Unicorn (1982), and was in fact a fan of the book, showing up to his recording sessions with a copy full of marked sections that he felt could not be cut under any circumstances. He also dubbed his own voice for the German version, and has said he would happily reprise the role for a live-action version that's been stuck in Development Hell for some time.
- He also played DEATH in the Welcome to Discworld short and in the Animated Adaptations of Soul Music and Wyrd Sisters.
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a CGI TV series that takes place between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The first episodes were of such high quality that, after praise by George Lucas, they were edited together and released theatrically (where it was torn to pieces by critics and met a lukewarm reaction from audiences). The character of Count Dooku is voiced by Corey Burton in the series, but when it was decided to release the movie in theaters Christopher Lee returned to record the role.
- Awesome, Dear Boy: According to his autobiography, the reason he took the role of Mister Midnight in The Return of Captain Invincible was so that he'd get a chance to sing onscreen. It's considered by many people to be the best part of the film.
- Badass: Oh, yeah. Not just onscreen, but in real life.
- Blue Blood: His aristocratic lineage goes back centuries. And from his mother's side (a branch of Italian nobility), he's directly descended from Charlemagne.
- Cool Old Guy: One of the coolest.
- Evil Is Bigger: It's easier to get villainous roles when you're 6'5" (1.96 m).
- Evil Sounds Deep: That bass-baritone voice. (though it's worth noting he's lovely offscreen)
- Hollywood Accounting: How he was hoodwinked into doing most of the Hammer Dracula pictures. The studio would say that they've already arranged filming and hired all the crew, and if Lee didn't agree to play Dracula they'd all be out of a job. Oh, and since they'd already made all the arrangements for paying the crew and finding locations, Lee would have to agree to not be paid full salary for the picture. Knowing this explains immensely why he doesn't like to talk about that part of his career anymore.
- Large Ham: Occasionally, when the role called for it.
- Mean Character, Nice Actor
- Money, Dear Boy: It didn't matter just what your film was about, if you could afford his fee, odds are you'd be able to get him to make an appearance. The movie will then have at least one redeeming feature.
- Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Sith Lord dark wizard metalhead Nazi stabber!
- Old Shame: He didsn't like to talk about most of his Hammer pictures, particularly the Dracula series.
- One of Us: He was a Tolkien fan before you were alive. (As mentioned above, he actually met Tolkien.)
- What Could Have Been: He died just as he was starting up a new movie with Uma Thurman.
- Wicked Cultured: Many of his characters.