Usually when a screen icon passes, we spend time reminiscing about the characters they played in the movies we loved. For Christopher Lee, this goes much deeper. When I first began an infatuation with movies, he was almost 20 years into his acting career. He truly has been an active part of my movie-watching for my entire life. So when I see today’s headlines labeling him as a “Movie Villain”, I cringe and think what an injustice and simplification that is. Christopher Lee has always been there – from 13 inch B&W television sets to 40 foot theatre screens – inspiring me to love movies.
This was a fascinating man … so much more than a beloved and talented actor. By the time he was 23 years old, he was decorated for his distinguished WWII service for the Royal Air Force and Special Services. He then moved into acting, and now leaves us with a remarkable 281 screen credits to his name.
Lee’s acting career was incredibly diverse, and certainly not limited to villainous roles, even if that’s how he is most frequently remembered. His screen time ranged from playing Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Mummy in traditional monster movies (many from Hammer films), to his iconic clash with James Bond as The Man with Golden Gun (1974). He also played Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, and Rochefort in 3 – Three Musketeers films, utilizing his expert real life fencing skills.
In 1977, Lee’s autobiography was published … “Tall, Dark and Gruesome”. He embraced his image, while working non-stop at broadening his roles. Many know him from the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man, and how could we forget his hosting of “Saturday Night Live” in 1978 (musical guest, Meat Loaf)? This man embraced both horror and comedy – he was courageous enough to appear in one of the Police Academy movies!
Lee experienced a career renaissance thanks in part to having a huge fan in filmmaker Tim Burton, who cast him in Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Additionally, younger film fans know him from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, two “Hobbit” films, and of course three “Star Wars” films.
Of course, it’s Mr. Lee’s voice that always announced his presence with authority. A deep, booming resonance could spark fear or respect; however, he also used that voice for singing – opera, a Broadway tunes album, and two Heavy Metal albums. He was married (yes, to the same woman) for more than 50 years. A life well lived may be the highest honor man can achieve, and it is personified in Sir Christopher Lee … much more than a villain.
Here is a taste of Metal Christmas from Christopher Lee: