Sir Christopher Lee, whose imposing height, stentorian voice, and piercing eyes made him a commanding and usually villainous presence in Hammer’s horror films and the Lord of the Rings series, died Sunday, June 7 in a London hospital, reportedly of respiratory and heart ailments. He was 93.
The only actor to contribute to the Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, James Bond, and Police Academy franchises, Lee made his big screen debut in 1948 in the drama Corridor of Mirrors (and had an uncredited role in Best Picture winner Hamlet). However, it was his role as the legendary monster in The Curse of Frankenstein that would help to define Lee in the public’s eye; he became the face of Hammer Horror, which blended gothic, Grand Guignol period trappings and bright red blood, often streaming down Lee’s cheeks as his Count Dracula claimed another victim. Perhaps his finest achievement in the horror genre was the eerie, unsettling The Wicker Man, which was one of the actor’s personal favorites.
As the decades progressed, Lee branched out, bringing his villainous presence to the James Bond series in The Man With the Golden Gun; as the white-haired wizard Saruman in the Lord of the Rings series (most recently in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies in 2014); and the Jedi bounty hunter Count Dooku in two of the Star Wars prequels. Lee worked with such acclaimed directors as John Huston (Moulin Rouge), Billy Wilder (The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes), Steven Spielberg (1941), Alejandro Jodorowsky (The Rainbow Thief), and Martin Scorsese (Hugo). Lee also collaborated extensively with Tim Burton, appearing in six of the director’s films.
Born in London in 1922, Lee served as an intelligence officer in World War II. In addition to his film and television roles, Lee contributed voice performances to a number of video games, and recorded several heavy metal concept albums. He is survived by Gitte, his wife of 54 years, and their daughter Christina.