Actor Christopher Lee dies at 93
LONDON — Christopher Lee, the actor, was often the villain.
He played Dracula, the bad guy in the James Bond thriller “The Man with the Golden Gun,” the deliciously evil wizard Saruman in the “Lord of the Ring” films, and the dude who fought Yoda with a lightsaber in “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.”
But Sir Christopher Lee, the man, who died this week at the age of 93? Not an ounce of villain to be found, fans and fellow actors alike said Thursday.
“You were an icon, and a towering human being with stories for days,” “Lord of the Rings” co-star Elijah Wood tweeted Thursday. “We’ll miss you.”
Lee died Sunday, a spokesman for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea said.
He had more than 150 film credits to his name, beginning in 1948 and stretching into this decade.
Lee initially made his name in horror films. His first major horror role was as Frankenstein’s creature and then the infamous vampire Dracula in a series films for Britain’s Hammer Films studios from the 1950s until the 1970s.
He was often quoted as saying he had to be talked into playing in some of the Dracula films. He said he played the character silently in one film — 1965’s “House of Horrors” — because the lines were so bad.
Later, he took on the role of James Bond’s nemesis Francisco Scaramanga in 1974’s “The Man with the Golden Gun,” and was introduced to a new generation of film-goers in 2001 with “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.”
In it, he played the evil wizard Saruman, former mentor to Gandalf — the good-guy wizard’s role Lee said he once coveted but had grown too old to play.
The next year, he entered the “Star Wars” universe as the fallen Jedi knight, Count Dooku, in the “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.”
Both series brought him renewed fame and acclaim, but for Lee, two roles always stood out: His 1973 turn as Lord Summerisle in the cult classic “The Wicker Man,” and his portrayal of the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, in the 1998 film, “Jinnah.”
“The most important thing I’ve ever done,” he said in a 2011 forum at the University College Dublin.
Lee was knighted in 2009 — fittingly on the day before Halloween — for his accomplishments in the arts. Two years later, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awarded Lee its highest honor, the Academy Fellowship.
BAFTA CEO Amanda Berry expressed sorrow Thursday at the passing of Lee, whom she called a “truly talented and versatile actor.”
“His biography, and therefore his legacy, is one that many in the film industry can only dream of,” Berry said.
In 2011, Lee said that he always wanted to bring something unexpected to his roles.
“One thing to me is very important, if you’re playing somebody that the audience regards as, let’s say evil, try to do something they don’t expect, something that surprises the audience,” he said.
In his last few years, he did just that for many fans: he turned to a heavy metal career, releasing the holiday albums “A Heavy Metal Christmas” and “A Heavy Metal Christmas Too” in 2012 and 2013 — endearing himself to yet another group of fans, many of whom reacted to the news of his death with an outpouring of celebration and sadness.
“The great, always criminally underrated Sir Christopher Lee has left us,” actor Mark Gatiss wrote on Twitter. “A Titan of Cinema and a huge part of my youth. Farewell.”