I’ve wanted to do an “In Memorandum” feature on this site for a while. In fact I recently started to put together a list of people we’ve lost over the years to offer my own personal remembrance when I heard the news of the passing of one of cinema’s all time greats…
Sadly its the death of one of my favourite villainous actors and someone I grew up watching; Sir Christopher Lee that is to be my first “In Memorandum”.
Born Christopher Frank Carandini Lee 27 May 1922 in Belgravia, Westminster, London. Before becoming a cinematic icon, Christopher Lee served in World War II and fought in Winter War, North African Campaign, Allied invasion of Italy, Battle of Monte Cassino as well as others.
After serving in World War II it was Christopher’s cousin, Nicolò Carandini who suggested he should become an actor. His film début was in Terence Young’s Corridor of Mirrors (1947).
Christopher Lee became a British film institution, especially with the Hammer Horror production company. Christopher Lee’s first Hammer Horror film was The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) where he played Frankenstein’s monster alongside Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein. This would mark the first time this great coupling happened…but not the last.
Christopher certainly had a long and varied career. Over the last few years, Christopher Lee had a resurgence in his career. Working with the likes of Tim Burton, George Lucas and Peter Jackson. Christopher has even had a heavy metal album; Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross released in 2010…yes Christopher Lee was a heavy metal star. But this was not his first foray into music as Lee sang on The Wicker Man soundtrack as well as numerous other singing projects.
But where do you start to remember a man whose career started way back in 1947?
Well, this is how I’ll always remember him…
Some people always favour the great Bela Lugosi when the character of Dracula is brought up and rightly so too.
But for me, the one true Dracula was Christopher Lee.
Fond memories of my childhood flood back of watching Hammer Horror films where Christopher Lee was often teamed up with another legend; Peter Cushing. I even remember listening to the Hammer version of Dracula on vinyl…yes we had horror records back then.
The image of Christopher Lee in full Dracula costume with wide eyes and blood soaked fangs is one that is burnt into my subconscious forever.
But of course Christopher Lee was famous for roles other than Dracula.
How about Francisco Scaramanga, AKA The man within the golden gun.
One of the best Bond villains along with his sidekick; Nick-Nack.
Or maybe Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man.
In the late 70’s, Christopher left England for America as he feared he was being typecast as horror villains.
His first American film was the disaster film Airport ’77. Lee would even show his funnier side by appearing on American TV institution, Saturday Night Live. He was even originally offered the Dr. Barry Rumack role in Airplane! which was ultimately played by another legend; Leslie Nielsen (I just want to tell you both good luck. We’re all counting on you.)
Lee certainly broke those horror roots and went on to be one of the most loved and recognised actors ever. Appearing in various films and genres, but never forgetting his Hammer Horror heritage, and every time I would see him in a new role, a smile would emerge on my face as it was great to see someone who had been acting as long as Christopher had and yet still getting roles.
Christopher’s career was still going strong in the 2000’s when he was cast as Saruman in the The Lord of the Rings film trilogy from Peter Jackson as well as Count Dooku in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith from George Lucas.
As well as working with Tim Burton in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows.
Lee’s favourite performance of his own was in the film Jinnah from 2002 where he played Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
He was even up for the part of Magneto in the big screen adaptation of the X-Men.
Even the word “prolific” seems too small to describe his career.
But it was not just his acting or singing he became known for.
Lee was appointed a Commander of the Venerable Order of Saint John in 1997.
2001 as part of that year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours, Lee became a Commander of the Order of the British Empire “for services to Drama”.
Lee was also made a Knight Bachelor in 2009 as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
Eventually, Lee was knighted by Prince Charles.
Christopher Lee’s final onscreen performance was The Boss, Mr. President in Angels in Notting Hill (2014). However, the film has (as of writing) not been released.
Christopher Lee died June 7, 2015 in Chelsea, London. He was 93.
Thanks for the years of entertainment Christopher. You will be missed, Prince of Darkness.
Christopher Lee: “When the Second World War finished I was 23 and already I had seen enough horror to last me a lifetime. I’d seen dreadful, dreadful things, without saying a word. Seeing horror depicted on film doesn’t affect me much.”