On June 7th, 2015, shortly after celebrating his 93rd birthday in a hospital in Chelsea, England; Christopher Lee passed away. As an actor he was best known for his work as “Saruman” in the film trilogies Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, as “Count Dooku” in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, and as the title villain in the James Bond film The Man With the Golden Gun.
But there was much more to this man who was born in 1922 in Belgravia, London. He spoke five languages fluently and could converse in at least three others. At the outset of World War II he volunteered to serve with the armed forces of Finland. He wound up moving to the RAF but his budding career as a pilot was halted by medical issues. He continued to serve and did so with distinction. While specifics were never revealed, Sir Christopher apparently was involved in missions with Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS).
In 1947 he made his film debut in Corridor of Mirrors, in spite of the fact many felt he was just too tall to be a successful actor (he was fully 6’5″ tall). A decade later he rose to prominence playing Frankenstein’s Monster in Hammer Films Production’s The Curse of Frankenstein, the first time he and his good friend Peter Cushing were billed together in a movie. Many more horror films followed, interspersed with dramatic roles. Many consider Sir Christopher the quintessential prototype for Dracula on film.
Before Ian Fleming’s Dr. No became the first entry in the Bond franchise, the author had offered the role of Dr. No to Sir Christopher who was very interested. However, since the role had already been cast, this idea was tossed on the scrap heap. But a little over two decades later he got the chance to play a Bond villain and he made the most of the role of “Francisco Scaramanga” in 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun. Because Sir Christopher was in Thailand making this film, he was forced to pass on the role of “The Specialist” in 1975’s Tommy, which went to Jack Nicholson. That was the first of several roles that Lee passed on that he would later come to regret. “Dr. Barry Rumack” in Airplane and Samuel Loomis in Halloween are just two examples of this.
With a filmography that includes all of the aforementioned movies, as well as the likes of 1941, An Eye for An Eye and his brilliant turn as “Dr. Wonka” in 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Christopher Lee’s talents were extremely wide-ranging. He is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, and their daughter.