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Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Farewell to the Late Great Christopher Lee

The great Christopher Lee passed away recently. The screen legend famous for roles in Hammer Horror films, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars passed away after suffering heart and respiratory problems. Lee died at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital on 7 June 2015, shortly after celebrating his 93rd birthday there. His wife delayed the public announcement until 11 June, in order to break the news to their family. He was 93. Now, it's time to look back at the career of the legendary performer. [hit the jump to continue]

[Watch Christopher Lee's last video message which felt like a premonitory farewell]

Sir Christopher Lee was an English actor, singer, and author. With a career spanning nearly 70 years

Born on May 27, 1922, Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was the son of Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Trollope Lee (1879–1941), of the 60th King's Royal Rifle Corps, and his wife, Contessa Estelle Marie (née Carandini di Sarzano) (1889–1981). Lee's parents separated when he was four and divorced two years later. Later, his mother married Harcourt George St-Croix Rose, a banker and uncle of Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels, who thus became Lee's step-cousin.

When World War II broke out, Lee volunteered to fight for the Finnish forces during the Winter War in 1939. Thereafter, he had an extensive experience in the military and intelligence. For the final few months of his service, Lee, who spoke fluent French and German, among other languages, was seconded to the Central Registry of War Criminals and Security Suspects. Here, he was tasked with helping to track down Nazi war criminals. Of his time with the organisation, Lee said: "We were given dossiers of what they'd done and told to find them, interrogate them as much as we could and hand them over to the appropriate authority ... We saw these concentration camps. Some had been cleaned up. Some had not."Lee then retired from the RAF in 1946 with the rank of flight lieutenant.

Lee's film début was in Terence Young's Gothic romance "Corridor of Mirrors" (1947). Playing Charles, the director got around his height by placing him at a table in a nightclub alongside Lois Maxwell, Mavis Villiers, Hugh Latimer and John Penrose. Lee had a single line, "a satirical shaft meant to qualify the lead's bravura."
His "apprenticeship" lasted ten years as he mostly played supporting and background characters.

Lee's first film for Hammer was "The Curse of Frankenstein" (1957), in which he played Frankenstein's monster, with Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein. It was the first film he and Cushing were credited together. They went on to appear in over twenty films together and became close friends. When he arrived at a casting session for the film, "they asked me if I wanted the part, I said yes and that was that" A little later, Lee co-starred with Boris Karloff in the film "Corridors of Blood" (1958), but Lee's own appearance as Frankenstein's monster led to his first appearance as the Transylvanian vampire in the 1958 film "Dracula" (known as "Horror of Dracula" in the United States). From then on, he became a legend.

He became title character in the series of "Fu Manchu" films made between 1965 and 1969, in which he starred as the villain in heavy oriental make-up; "I, Monster" (1971), in which he played Jekyll and Hyde; The "Creeping Flesh" (1972); and his personal favourite, "The Wicker Man" (1973), in which he played Lord Summerisle.

Ian Fleming would later offer to him the role of the titular antagonist in the first Eon-produced Bond film "Dr. No". Lee enthusiastically accepted, but by the time Fleming told the producers, they had already chosen Joseph Wiseman for the role. In 1974, Lee finally got to play a James Bond villain when he was cast as the deadly assassin Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun. Lee said of his performance, "In Fleming's novel he's just a West Indian thug, but in the film he's charming, elegant, amusing, lethal... I played him like the dark side of Bond."

His other film roles include Saruman in "The Lord of the Rings" film trilogy (2001–2003) and "The Hobbit" film trilogy (2012–2014), and Count Dooku in the final two films of the "Star Wars" prequel trilogy (2002 and 2005) and "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" (2008).

Always noted as an actor for his deep strong voice, Lee was also known for his singing ability, recording various opera and musical pieces between 1986 and 1998 and the symphonic metal album Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross in 2010 after having worked with several metal bands since 2005. The heavy metal follow-up titled Charlemagne: The Omens of Death was released on 27 May 2013. He was honoured with the "Spirit of Metal" award in the 2010 Metal Hammer Golden God awards ceremony.

Contrary to popular belief, Lee did not have a vast library of occult books. When giving a speech at the University College Dublin on 8 November 2011, he said: "Somebody wrote I have 20,000 books. I'd have to live in a bath! I have maybe four or five [occult books]." He further admonished the students against baneful occult practices, warning them that he had met "people who claimed to be Satanists. Who claimed to be involved with black magic. Who claimed that they not only knew a lot about it," however he himself had certainly never been involved: "I warn all of you: never, never, never. You will not only lose your mind, you'll lose your soul".

Lee was knighted for services to drama and charity in 2009, received the BAFTA Fellowship in 2011 and received the BFI Fellowship in 2013. Lee considered his best performance to be that of Pakistan's founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the biopic Jinnah (1998), and his best film to be the British horror film The Wicker Man (1973).


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