He was the man who stamped his authority on the horror film genre decades.
But sad news today comes today that Sir Christopher Lee, the screen legend whose career took him from Hammer horror to Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and a role as one of the great Bond villains, has died. He was 93.
The veteran actor died at 8.30am on Sunday at London’s Chelsea and Westminster Hospital where he had been treated for respiratory problems and heart failure over the preceding three weeks and celebrated his 93rd birthday.
His widow Lady Lee chose to delay the public announcement of Sir Christopher’s passing until she had informed close family members. The couple were married for more than 50 years.
The actor first achieved fame as a Hammer Horror star in the 1950s, but the last 15 years of his career were among the most fruitful.
He was introduced to a new generation of fans as a star of some of the world’s biggest franchises: Count Dooku in the Star Wars films, Saruman in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
Sir Christopher’s career began in the 1940s, but it was the 1958 film Dracula that made him a star.
He played Count Dracula opposite his close friend Sir Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. More Dracula films followed in 1960s for the Hammer studio, but the actor was keen to move away from the genre.
His memorable roles included Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man (1973) and Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun (1974). He had a personal connection to James Bond: Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, was his cousin.
Sir Christopher was knighted in 2009 and received a Bafta fellowship in 2011, and said he would never retire.
His film career started in 1947 with a role in gothic romance Corridor of Mirrors but it wasn’t until the late 50s, when Lee worked with Hammer, that he started gaining fame. His first role with the studio was The Curse of Frankenstein and it was the first of 20 films that he made with Peter Cushing.
Lee’s most famous role for Hammer was playing Dracula, a role which became one of his most widely recognised although the actor wasn’t pleased with how the character was treated.
In the 70s, Lee continued to gain fame in the horror genre with a role in The Wicker Man, a film which he considered to be his best. He went on to play a Bond villain in 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun and turned down a role in Halloween, which he later said was one of biggest career regrets. In his career, he also turned down a role in the madcap comedy Airplane!, something he also regretted.
Always fearing being typecast as a horror star his career saw a resurgence in 2001 with a role as Saruman in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and then as Count Dooku in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
He also became a regular collaborator with Tim Burton, who cast him in Sleepy Hollow, Corpse Bride and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows. Burton went on to award him with a Bafta fellowship.
In 2011, he returned to Hammer with a role in the Hilary Swank thriller The Resident.
Lee still has one film yet to be released, the fantasy film Angels in Notting Hill, where he plays a godly figure who looks after the universe. He was also set to star in 9/11 drama The 11th opposite Uma Thurman but it’s believed that the film hadn’t yet started production.
He recently signed up for a new film, The 11th, an ensemble drama co-starring Uma Thurman. Set in the hours leading up to the attack on the Twin Towers, it was due to start filming in November.
His one remaining ambition, he said in 2011, was to work with Clint Eastwood. The film of which he was most proud was Jinnah, in which he played the founder of Pakistan. “It is certainly the most important role I have ever played, because the responsibility on my shoulders was immense,” he explained.
Reluctant to think of himself as a star, the modest actor was also reticent about his Second World War record as a member of the Special Operations Executive.
He married his wife, Birgit, known as Gitte, in 1961 and they had a daughter, Christina.