Friday 12 June 2015

Obituary: Sir Christopher Lee 1922 – 2015

Prince Of Darkness...

“I've always acknowledged my debt to Hammer. I've always said I'm very grateful to them. They gave me this great opportunity, made me a well known face all over the world for which I am profoundly grateful.” - Sir Christopher Lee

Sadly on Sunday 7th June 2015 the world lost the most prolific and recognisable film icon in the history of Cinema. Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee amassed over 250 film appearances as well as many television and voice over roles in a career that started in 1946 and lasted until last year. With a linage dating back to Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor, and a six-foot-four frame, Lee brought a quintessential sense of aristocratic dignity, and imposing physical gravitas to his work which left its mark on popular culture around the world.

Born in Belgravia, Westminster,London, on 27th May 1922, to Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Trollope Lee (1879–1941) and his wife, Contessa Estelle Marie (née Carandini di Sarzano) (1889–1981). His parents would divorce when Lee was six years old and he would move with his mother to Switzerland, before returning to London. Lee would begin his passion for acting at school, and would regularly perform in plays until his teenage years. After a brief time working as a clerk, he would join the RAF during World War II. After initially training as a pilot, but having to stay grounded due to developing headaches and blurred vision, Lee joined RAF Intelligence and moved through several theatres and campaigns, being promoted several times before finally being seconded to the Central Registry of War Criminals and Security Suspects, which saw him tasked with tracking down and interrogating Nazi war criminals. Lee retired from the RAF in 1946 and after a brief stint ac a clerk once again, joined the Rank Organisation to begin his acting career.

Though the majority of his film appearances were in dramas, his legacy will be forever tied to the studio that launched his international career, Hammer. It was with Hammer Films that Lee, after 10 years of bit parts, received his first big break playing the creature opposite Peter Cushing in 'The Curse Of Frankenstein' (1957). It was the intimidating presence of Lee and a thoughtful, yet terrifying performance that led him to his most iconic role the following year in 'Dracula' as the titular Count, a role that he would reprise several times before finally walking away from it in the 1970s.

Lee's Hammer years saw the actor take on a number of classic roles including Grigori Rasputin in 'Rasputin, The Mad Monk' (1966), Kharis in 'The Mummy' (1959), Sir Henry Baskerville in 'The Hound Of The Baskervilles' (1959), Nicholas, Duc De Richleau in 'The Devil Rides Out' (1968), and Father Michael Rayner in 'To the Devil A Daughter' (1976).

Outside of Hammer, Lee appeared in many more horror films for companies such as Amicus and cemented his place among the great horror icons of the 20th century. Starring roles alongside luminaries Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, and Peter Cushing made Lee a household name and the go-to guy for sinister and villainous characters. 'The Oblong Box' (1969), 'The Wicker Man' (1973), 'I, Monster' (1971) the 'Fu Manchu' film series, 'Horror Express', and continental horrors such as 'The Blood Demon' (1967) as well as reprising his role as Dracula in the German/Italian/Spanish produced 'Count Dracula' (1969).

In the 1970's Lee began to take on more drama and action roles appearing Comete de Rochfort in the Musketeer film trilogy, and as arch assassin Francisco Sacramanga in the James Bond film 'The Man With The Golden Gun' (1974) – though he'd initially been asked by Ian Flemming to play the Character of 'Dr. No' in the spy's first outing, but was beaten to it by Joseph Wiseman. But Lee wasn't a stranger to comedy either as roles in '1941' (1979), 'The Return Of Captain Invincible' (1982), 'Gremlins 2: the New Batch' (1990), and 'Police Academy: Mission To Moscow' (1994) can attest.

Lee would later continue his career, long past the point where many of his fellow actors have chosen to retire, with recurring roles in major film franchises 'The Lord Of The Rings', 'Star Wars', and 'The Hobbit', as well as appearing in a variety of capacities in the Films of Tim Burton. This served to not only see him break various records as an actor, but more importantly he was introduced to a whole new generation of cinema-goers.

Alongside his acting, Lee was an avid golfer, a proficient swordsman, spoke several languages fluently, as well as a couple conversationally, and embarked on a musical career releasing several albums that showcased his distinctive operatic style. He found an unlikely kinship with Heavy Metal releasing the concept albums 'Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross' (2010) and 'Charlemagne: The Omens of Death' (2013), as well as appearing on albums by Manowar, and Rhapsody Of Fire. Between 2012 and 2014 he also released three EPs of Heavy Metal christmas music. This earned him the place of the oldest Heavy Metal performer in the world to make it onto the Billboard 100 chart at the age of 91, and saw him receive the 'Spirit Of Hammer' award at the Metal Hammer Magazine Golden Gods Awards in 2010.

Sir Christopher Lee died on Sunday 7th June 2015 after a bout of respiratory problems that saw the veteran actor hospitalised shortly after his 93rd birthday. His death was announced on 11th June. He is survived by his wife of over 50 years Birgit, and his daughter Christina. Christopher Lee left a legacy as an actor that will never be surpassed and a presence that will never be forgotten.

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