Christopher Lee, after an acting career spanning almost 70 years, died in a hospital Sunday morning due to respiratory and heart failure.
Known for his deep, sinister voice and high cheekbones, Lee had a storied career of villainous roles, most famously as Dracula in the 1958 film and its many sequels and as Francisco Saramanga in 1974’s Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun. Prominent roles in this century include Saruman in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies as well as Count Dooku in episodes II and III of Star Wars. These famous roles barely scratch the surface of a more than 200 film career that includes such roles as Frankenstein’s monster, both Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, Comte de Rochefort and Death.
Before his film career, Lee served in the Royal Air Force in World War II. He was one of the initial volunteers providing aid to Finland during the Winter War in 1939, but returned home before the war reached England’s shores. He was told that he could not fly due to an optic nerve failure at the end of his training, and spent most of the war working in intelligence in the North African theater and up through Italy and Germany, eventually serving on the Central Registry of War Criminals and Security Suspects before retiring as a flight lieutenant in 1946.
Though not widely known for his charity work, Lee was a consistent supporter of Cinema for Peace and UNICEF.
Lee experienced a renaissance in fame in 2010 when he began his death metal career. Having long sung for soundtracks, Lee sung on a duet for the Rhapsody song “The Magic of the Wizard’s Dream,” which released in 2004, and it turned out to be a match made in metal Heaven. Lee released his own complete album, “Charlemagne: By the Sword and Cross,” in 2010, winning that year’s Spirit of Metal award. He would spend the rest of his life recording heavy metal covers, starting with a Christmas album in 2012. One of those tracks, “Jingle Hell,” made it to no. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100, making Lee the oldest artist ever to appear on the chart at 91.
Lee continued to release EPs every year until his death. When discussing “Darkest Carols, Faithful Sing” in last December, Lee said, “At my age, the most important thing for me is to keep active by doing things that I truly enjoy. I do not know how long I am going to be around, so every day is a celebration and I want to share it with my fans.”