Christopher Lee, Dracula and ‘Star Wars’ Actor, Dies at 93

Christopher Lee, Actor Who Made Dracula

Christopher Lee, the second most famous Dracula of the 20th century — an impressive feat — and a memorably irrepressible villain in James Bond film “The Man With the Golden Gun,” in the “Star Wars” films and in “The Lord of the Rings” pics, died Sunday in London after suffering heart failure and respiratory problems. He was 93.

Lee appeared in 10 films as Count Dracula (nine if his uncredited role in the comedy “One More Time” is excluded).

His first role for famed British horror factory Hammer Films was not the Transylvanian vampire, however, but Frankenstein’s Monster in 1957’s “The Curse of Frankenstein.” His close friend Peter Cushing, with whom he would co-star in horror films frequently, starred as the Baron.

Lee made his first appearance as the sharp-toothed Count in 1958’s “Horror of Dracula.”

For reasons not quite certain, he skipped the 1960 sequel “Brides of Dracula,” but he returned to the role for 1965’s “Dracula: Prince of Darkness” — a movie in which he hissed a lot but had no dialogue, because the dialogue was so bad, Lee later claimed.

Lee said later that he was reluctant to continue in the role but appeared in “Dracula Has Risen From the Grave” (1968), “Taste the Blood of Dracula” (1969) and “Scars of Dracula” (1970), hit films that are all now considered classics of the genre. In his last Dracula films for Hammer, Lee starred in the less-successful “Dracula A.D. 1972” and “Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride” (1973), which brought the character into a contemporary setting. (Lee also starred in “Count Dracula,” a film by cult exploitation director Jess Franco that was made in 1970 and released in 1973; in 1976, the multilingual Lee appeared as Dracula in a French film called “Dracula and Son.”)

Lee made horror films for Hammer that were not vampire-centered. He was the title character in 1959’s “The Mummy” and 1966’s “Rasputin, the Mad Monk.” He also brought Dennis Wheatley, an acclaimed author of occult thrillers, to Hammer, where two adaptations were produced, both starring Lee: “The Devil Rides Out” (1967) and “To the Devil a Daughter” (1976). The first is considered among Hammer’s best work. The second, although financially successful, was something of a disaster, with the author disowning the film, which was the studio’s last horror pic.

He also appeared in a number of non-Hammer horror films, including the “Fu Manchu” series of the late 1960s; “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” adaptation “I, Monster” (1970); “The Creeping Flesh,” with Cushing; and Lee’s favorite thriller effort, “The Wicker Man,” in which he played Lord Summerisle.

After 1977’s wretched “Meatcleaver Massacre,” for which, Lee claimed, the filmmakers had slapped on voiceover narration the actor had recorded for an entirely different movie, he largely steered clear of horror films, though Lee did appear, along with Cushing and Vincent Price, in 1983’s “House of the Long Shadows,” an American-produced horror comedy that in many ways brought the era of British horror pics to an end.

Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was born in Belgravia, Westminster, England, the son of a career military man and his wife, a famous beauty and contessa who was part Italian. They separated when Lee and his sister were still young, and their mother took the children to live in Switzerland.

Lee volunteered to serve with Finnish forces against the Soviet Union in 1939 and then served with the RAF and British intelligence during WWII.

After the war, Lee secured a seven-year contract with the Rank Organization.

His film debut came in Terence Young’s 1947 Gothic romance “Corridor of Mirrors”; the same year he had a brief uncredited role in Laurence Olivier’s film adaptation of “Hamlet.” Lee appeared in nearly 30 films, mostly forgettable adventure pics, over the next decade, although he did have an uncredited role in John Huston’s “Moulin Rouge” (1952) playing the painter Georges Seurat.

The prolific actor — IMDb lists 281 credits — appeared in many films outside the horror genre even during his Hammer years.

Lee appeared in the studio’s 1959 “The Hound of the Baskervilles” as Lord Henry Baskerville; Cushing played Sherlock Holmes. (Lee later played Holmes in the non-Hammer “Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace,” then played the detective’s brother Mycroft in Billy Wilder’s 1970 film “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” and played Sherlock Holmes in a pair of British telepics in the 1990s.)

He appeared in a terrible 1970 adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” that starred Charlton Heston, Jason Robards and John Gielgud and played a gunsmith in the British-produced Raquel Welch Western “Hannie Caulder.”

Even outside the horror genre, however, Lee’s characters were rarely virtuous, even if it was all too easy to root for them.

As the assassin Francisco Scaramanga in 1974 Bond pic “The Man With the Golden Gun,” he was a singular villain in the 007 pantheon — not a mad scientist or a megalomaniacal industrialist but an effortlessly sexy enemy who is perhaps James Bond’s dark reflection. (Ian Fleming is said to have offered Lee the part of Dr. No in the first Bond film, not knowing that the part had already been cast.)

He played Rochefort, chief henchman to Charlton Heston’s villainous Cardinal Richelieu, in Richard Lester’s highly successful “The Three Musketeers” and “The Four Musketeers” films; he didn’t have much to say but skillfully tackled the semi-comical swordplay. (Lee returned to the role in Lester’s 1989 “The Return of the Musketeers.”)

Lee did some American TV work, appearing in the miniseries “How the West Was Won” and Harold Robbins adaptation “The Pirate,” but largely appeared in adventure films. He showed a comedic side as guest host on “Saturday Night Live” in 1978 and in Steven Spielberg’s “1941,” in which he played a German officer.

He had a character arc on the British children’s sci-fi show “The Tomorrow People” in 1995 and was a series regular on the brief CBS drama “Street Gear” the same year. In 1998 Lee starred in the film “Jinnah” in the title role as the founder of modern Pakistan — his best performance, the actor declared at one point. He also appeared in a number of British or American miniseries, including “Ivanhoe” and “Gormenghast,” and had a small role in Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow.” (Lee later did voice work for several Burton projects, including 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland,” and appeared in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”)

Burton presented a BAFTA Fellowship, a life achievement award, to Lee at the 2011 BAFTA ceremonies. Lee was knighted in 2009 and received a BFI Fellowship as well.

There was no reason to suspect, in short, that Lee would have his profile raised substantially during the 2000s, in his 80s. Lee was, however, the only actor to make substantial appearances in both the “Lord of the Rings” and “Stars Wars” film franchises. In the trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s books (Lee’s appearance in the third film was cut from the theatrical version but restored for DVD), he played the duplicitous and ultimately villainous wizard Saruman; he repeated the role in the three “Hobbit” movies.

In the “Star Wars” pics “Episode II — Attack of the Clones” and “Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” he played Count Dooku (the name chosen almost certainly in tribute to Lee’s most famous character), who becomes the evil Darth Tyranus. The highlight of Lee’s appearance in the “Star Wars” films was the six-foot-five actor’s lightsaber duel with a fully digitized and diminutive Yoda.

In the 2009 film “Triage,” Lee had an interesting and effective supporting turn as a Spanish psychiatrist with a dark past who helps a war photographer, played by Colin Farrell, suffering from survivor’s guilt.

Lee’s autobiography “Tall, Dark and Gruesome” was published in 1977 and republished in 1999; a revised and expanded edition called “Lord of Misrule” was issued in 2004.

Lee was a step-cousin of Ian Fleming. He is survived by wife, Birgit “Gitte” Kroencke Lee, whom he married in 1961; a daughter; and a niece, British actress Harriet Walter.

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  1. I was lucky to have seen several Lee films in neighborhood theaters when they were new (DRACULA A.D. 1972, THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, THE WICKER MAN, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, etc.) plus tons of older films of his on TV, e.g. HORROR HOTEL, various Hammer films and SCREAM OF FEAR, which I highly recommend.

  2. Guy Smalley says:

    Try a new link my tribute to mr Lee http://goo.gl/iZw1yc Rip

  3. rich Drover says:

    The last of the old great horror stars, incomparable, it’s a great loss to the horror genre in paticular but also to cinema and film in general, very sad indeed rip Christopher Lee

  4. DirtyHarry44 says:

    Bela Lugosi is still my number one “Dracula” but Christopher Lee is definitely a close second. RIP Sir Christopher Lee and at least you didn’t go out with a stake driven through your heart.

  5. patrik says:

    CHristopher Lee – good universal actor, and for the.. best makeup -role(film) vampire Dracula

  6. David says:

    you were one of my favourite actors of all time. Everything from the Wicker Man to the Lord of the Rings, you added a unique delight to my cinematic experience. Rest well, old friend.

  7. Jerry Foster says:

    You made the best films , while you were here , now its your turn to take a rest , cause your the last of
    for the very best …..
    REST IN PEACE !!!!!!!
    CHRISTOPHER LEE

  8. Kelly Pfeiffer says:

    Could you have possibly used a worse photo of Mr. Lee?

  9. D. Hricko says:

    My favorite bad guy. Mr. Christopher Lee, you brought a seamless transition between generations. Your work will always be appreciated. Thank You.

  10. Christopher Lee, what a marvelous actor. From the time I first saw the 1960 Dracula character there was only one Dracula and that was Christopher Lee. So sorry that time takes us all, however he will live forever.

  11. Paul Stephens says:

    Christopher Lee was a great movie icon and legend as a young teen in the 1970’s I like the Hammer Dracula Movies and I liked Christopher Lee playing the part as Count Dracula that why I like Dracula even in the marvels comic books The Tomb of Dracula I used to watch those movies on Fridays on the night owl theater which aired double horror movies on a Friday night back then he was one actor that I liked a lot he will be sadly missed R.I.P you are sadly missed 😢😰

  12. ganderman1 says:

    I’m sure the reason Mr. Lee skipped “Brides of Dracula” is because Dracula was not a character in that movie (though Mr. Cushing’s Van Helsing was). Rest in peace, Sir Christopher.

  13. occultology says:

    My sadness upon hearing of the death of the great Christopher Lee is only counterbalanced by the certain knowledge that this King of the Entertainment Realm is now reunited with his dear friends Peter Cushing, and Vincent Price.

  14. PlugUglyFilms says:

    Christopher Lee was not only an amazing actor in a league of his own, but a heartfelt and fascinating human being with guts to spare. I had the honor of visiting him at his apartment in London in 2000 for an interview I wrote for Mean Magazine and was overwhelmed by the man’s kindness, intelligence, and generosity.

    The question of how and why Sir Lee’s career experienced an explosive resurgence in the 2000’s can, in my opinion, be answered via two things: Sir Lee’s talent/presence/history and the culmination of the hard work he and his management team put into segueing late-career success into even larger success.

    My brother, producer/manager Daniel Sládek, and Sir Lee developed a relationship when Lee was cast to star in the 1998 film Tale of the Mummy (Dimension Films directed by Russell Mulcahy), which Daniel produced. Thereafter, Daniel managed Sir Lee’s career, teaming with his longtime legendary UK agent Jean Diamond. Sir Lee had just shot the indie film Jinnah and Daniel became the producers rep for the filmmakers, mounting a For Your Consideration campaign which generated a lot of critical acclaim for his performance. Then came his starring roles in Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Gormanghast, In The Beginning, Sleepy Hollow…and the rest…Sir Lee even gave my brother a shout out in his autobiography thanking him “for performing his own special miracle.”

    They don’t make actors or men quite like Sir Christopher Lee anymore and he will be missed.

  15. eddie says:

    Is this the best magazine or what.

  16. Keith Texada says:

    RIP Sir Christopher Lee. An outstanding actor in horror,fantasy and drama. His roles as Dracula,in Howling 2,The Lord of the Rings,The Man With The Golden Gun and Star Wars episodes 2 & 3 will be enjoyed for many,many years to come!

  17. eddie says:

    I love this magazine

  18. Type-O says:

    Lee effectively played Dracula yet again in a cameo as the “ship’s vampire” in ‘The Magic Christian’ (1969)

  19. teenareid says:

    RIP Sir Christopher Lee. A great talent lost, you’ll be missed.

  20. Samala says:

    He was a great actor. He had a commanding presence and a beautiful voice. He will be missed.

  21. scott says:

    second most famous dracula? Hardly… Lee OWNED it

  22. No matter what Christopher Lee means now, his past films is his future. Truly, a man of his times when, at the time, he was unlike anyone before him. That quality is so rare and so well enjoyed.

    The end of that era long ago preceded his passing, but his essence will always be with us, regardless of the quality of his filmwork.

    RIP…you’ve earned it.

  23. Chris says:

    RIH…Mr.Lee

  24. RIP. He’s alway be my favorite actor :)

  25. Bill B. says:

    No offense to the actor, but as a child I thought the those Dracula movies were terrible and boring and as an adult, I still do.

  26. One of the master thespians, and the greatest voice the screen has ever seen. He’ll live forever.

  27. Bela Ghostly says:

    NO!!!! I just watched him with Cushing and Price in House of Long Shadows. I first saw him with
    Cushing in Horror of Dracula on the late show when I was 5 or 6 and became a big fan and a
    collector of all his movies and the Hammer Collection. I have some of his earlier work too and my
    favorite is Horror Hotel. Like Vincent Price, Karloff and Lugosi he had that special voice and a
    presence on screen that was incredible that nobody in Hollyweird can touch! There are NO more
    Horror stars! No more great Horror movies! That era is over! RIP Christopher Lee aka Dracula.

  28. The last of the Legends of Horror has left us. R.I.P. Sir Lee. The best Dracula ever.

  29. Ken says:

    Memories of my youth: Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in all those scary late show movies on tv that scared me as a little kid. They were a great team! Later on in advanced years, he brought great gravitas to LOTR, and his battle against Yoda in Star Wars was epic! A resonant vocal delivery, and a fabulous actor. His “cool” factor never waned. RIP, Count.

  30. Raph t says:

    Coolest Nazi killer ever. RIP hero.

  31. Daniel says:

    A more respectful obitu-blog. Other pages show no more than ten sentences to a life of 9 decades+.
    A Commander and Knight to drama. Curtain close on the most caped actor in cinema history.

  32. Jim says:

    He showed a comedic side as guest host on “Saturday Night Live” in 1978

    Meatloaf was the musical guest. “Bat out of Hell” was the album Meatloaf was promoting.

    He introduced Meatloaf as “Ladies and Gentlemen, Meat…Loaf.” Meaning: “meet Loaf.”

  33. Jim says:

    As the assassin Francisco Scaramonga in 1974 Bond pic “The Man With the Golden Gun,” he was a singular villain in the 007 pantheon — not a mad scientist or a megalomaniacal industrialist but an effortlessly sexy enemy who is perhaps James Bond’s dark reflection. (Ian Fleming is said to have offered Lee the part of Dr. No in the first Bond film, not knowing that the part had already been cast.)

    Lee was a cousin of Fleming.

  34. GeorgeValentin says:

    The last legend of the famous horror movie actors has passed away!

  35. therealeverton says:

    R.I.P. One way or another he entertained me my whole life. A class act(or).

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