CHRISTOPHER Lee, an actor who brought dramatic gravitas and aristocratic bearing to screen villains from Dracula to the evil wizard Saruman in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, has died. He was 93.
Lee appeared in more than 250 films, taking on roles including the James Bond enemy Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun and Count Dooku in two Star Wars prequels.
But for many, he will forever be known as the vampire Count Dracula in a slew of gory, gothic “Hammer Horror” thrillers churned out in the 1950s and 1960s that became hugely popular around the world.
He railed against the typecasting, however, and ultimately the sheer number and range of his roles – including Sherlock Holmes and the founder of Pakistan – secured his place in film history.
“I didn’t have dreams of being a romantic leading man,” Lee said in 2002. “But I dreamed of being a character actor, which I am.”
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London on Thursday issued a statement confirming that Lee died on
Sunday. Lee’s agent said his family declined to comment or provide more details.
Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was born in London on 27 May, 1922. His father was a British army officer who had served in the Boer War and his mother was Contessa Estelle Marie Carandini di Sarzano. His parents separated when he was young, and his mother later remarried Harcourt Rose, the uncle of James Bond creator Ian Fleming.
Lee attended Wellington College, an elite boarding school, and joined the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. Poor eyesight prevented him from becoming a pilot, and he served as an intelligence officer in North Africa and Italy.
After the war, the 6ft 4in Lee was signed to a contract with Britain’s Rank studio, and spent the next decade playing minor roles in a series of formulaic pictures. He also appeared briefly in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet in 1948 along with his future Hammer co-star, Peter Cushing.
He launched his horror career in 1957, starring as the monster in Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein. In 1958, Lee made his first appearance as the famous vampire in Dracula, opposite Cushing’s Van Helsing.
Lee went on to play the Transylvanian vampire in sequels including Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Scars of Dracula and Dracula AD 1972 – an attempt to update the series to 1970s London.
Lee was wary of being typecast, and later said the studio practically blackmailed him into continuing to appear.
Lee never retired. His career flourished late in life, with roles in some of the best-loved of film franchises. He also branched out into music, and released a heavy metal album to mark his 92nd birthday last year.
Eva Juel Hammerich, a producer in Copenhagen, Denmark, who was expecting to film with Lee later this year, said she was shocked at the loss.
“Honestly we don’t know what to do,” she said. “You can find another person to interpret a role but it will be done in a different way.”
Yesterday Sir Roger Moore said: “It’s terrible when you lose an old friend, and Christopher Lee was one of my oldest. We first met in 1948.”
Lee married Birgit Kroencke in 1961. Their daughter, Christina, was born in 1963.