Lord of the Rings and Dracula star Christopher Lee dies at 93

The veteran British actor was an enduring silver screen presence, embodying iconic roles such as Count Dracula and Saruman in the Lord of the Rings trilogy

Christopher Lee (1922-2015)
Christopher Lee (1922-2015)

Veteran British actor Sir Christopher Lee, known for his roles in Dracula, James Bond and Lord of the Rings franchises, died in hospital last Sunday. He was 93. He was being treated for respiratory problems and heart failure at London’s Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, sources close to the family told the British media.

The impressively cheekboned and preternaturally tall actor was a commanding presence that inspired cult admiration, and thanks to his roles in key genre films, secured a fan base that spanned several generations. An early trademark role was his take on Count Dracula for the British company Hammer Studios in 1958.


Though not the first Dracula to enter the cinematic sphere in a mainstream way - that honour belongs to Bela Lugosi - Lee crafted a distinctive look and feel for Bram Stoker’s vampiric Count, aided by Hammer’s infamously lurid - though much-loved - baroque aesthetic.


Subsequent Dracula sequels from the Hammer stable would yield diminishing returns, but Lee’s reach spread far and wide - notably, he also played the villainous Francisco Scaramanga in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) - a franchise based on novels by his cousin Ian Fleming - and his turn as Lord Summerisle in the haunting British horror film The Wicker Man (1973) was another early highlight which resonates to this day.

But apart from cinematic milestones and crowd pleasers - the crowd mainly being dedicated horror anoraks - Lee didn’t exactly cherry-pick his roles. His distinctive looks and booming voice ensured he left a trademark stamp in all the productions he appeared in, eventually amassing a total of 208 titles in his filmography.


Later generations would embrace the actor too, as he returned to the realms of the fantastic with key roles in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies (as turncoat-wizard Saruman) and in the much-maligned but financially successful Star Wars prequels, playing the scheming - and highly acrobatic - ‘Sith’ Lord Count Dooku.


But despite leaving an indelible mark on the cinematic landscape via the many theatrical arch-villains he embodied, Lee credited Jinnah (1998), a biographical film about the founder of Pakistan, as his favourite film.

The actor was knighted for services to drama and charity in 2009, received the BAFTA Fellowship in 2011 and received the BFI Fellowship in 2013.

Curiously - though also delightfully appropriate in the eyes of many fans - Lee also devoted his vocal talents to a number of heavy metal projects, most prominently the symphonic metal albums concept albums Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross (2010) and Charlemagne: The Omens of Death (2013).

Lee is survived by his wife Birgit Krøncke and their daughter, Christina. When asked what the secret to his enduring marriage was, Lee said, “Marry someone wonderful”.  

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