Veteran actor and multiple world record holder Sir Christopher Lee has died at the age of 93.
News of the actor’s death was confirmed today, with Lee reported to have passed away on Sunday at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital in London after being hospitalised for respiratory problems.
The English-born star first made his name playing Dracula and Frankenstein in the Hammer horror films, before going on to set the record for most screen credits for a living actor in 2007 after being acknowledged to have appeared in an incredible 244 film and TV movies.
Best-known for his villainous roles which included playing the evil wizard Saruman in The Lord of the Rings series and the formidable Scaramanga in the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun.
Born in London in 1922, to a military father and an aristocratic mother Lee’s acting career started after a stint serving in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve during the Second World War.
He began his theatrical training with the Rank Organisation in 1947, and made his big screen debut in gothic romance Corridor of Mirrors that same year.
However it was his association with another British film institution that would later put him on the path to becoming a household name.
Noticing his talent as a master of macabre roles, horror studio Hammer cast Lee in the role of Frankenstein's Monster alongside his eventual regular co-star and great friend Peter Cushing in The Curse of Frankenstein.
Lee went on to terrify filmgoers on a regular basis with a steady stream of blood curdling roles for Hammer throughout the 1960s and 70s, playing the iconic Kharis in The Mummy and repeatedly reprising his role as Count Dracula.
His 6ft 5in frame and strong features, which often typecast him as a bad guy, also saw him enter the record books as the Tallest actor in a leading role (a record he would go on to share with Wedding Crashers star Vince Vaughan).
Mindful of this, following another chilling turn as Lord Summerisle in the British mystery movie The Wicker Man, Lee moved away from the realm of horror, opting for more diverse roles such as the diver Martin Wallace in disaster movie Airport ’77, and a comedic turn in Stephen Spielberg’s 1941.
Despite his advancing years, the turn of the new century marked the most commercially successful period of Lee’s lengthy career.
Along with his appearances in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Martin Scorsese‘s Hugo and a handful of roles in Tim Burton directed movies including Sleepy Hollow, Lee also had a key part in the Star Wars prequels as the evil Count Dooku.
The light sabre scenes required for the part made Lee a perfect fit for the role, having duelled in 17 films with foils, swords, and even billiard cues on his way to setting the record for most films with a swordfight by an actor over the course of his illustrious career.
The period also saw a number of unexpected career changes for Lee. As well as enjoying an unlikely diversion as a heavy metal vocalist, with his 2010 album Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross winning a Spirit of Metal Award from Metal Hammer magazine, Lee was also in demand from computer games makers.
In 2004 he helped set the record for First spoken dialogue in a massive multiplayer online role playing game after lending his vocal talents to the game Everquest II, while five years later he played the role of Diz/Ansem the Wise in Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days to set the record for Oldest videogame voice actor.
That same year also saw Lee knighted for services to drama and charity before being awarded a Bafta fellowship in 2011.
In 2008, he was recognised by Guinness World Records as the world’s Most connected actor living after software developed by the University of Virginia that mapped the working relationship between 1,250,000 actors and actresses in the Internet Movie Database determined that Lee was “at the centre of the Hollywood universe”.
“A gracious, intelligent man” - Guinness World Records Editor-In-Chief Craig Glenday pays tribute to Sir Christopher Lee
When I first met Sir Christopher, he was standing in just his underpants in the middle of what I thought was my dressing room.
I didn’t realise I’d be sharing the room, and certainly didn’t expect to walk in on a Hollywood legend in his underwear.
We got chatting and I was captivated by his stories and anecdotes. It was then that it became clear that he was at the centre of the movie universe – almost literally.
Everyone knows about the Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but at the time, it was actually Christopher Lee who could be connected to any other actor in the fewest possible steps.
I also had the unforgettable experience of sword fighting with the legend in a hotel in West London.
We were doing a photoshoot for the Guinness World Record’s 2008 book and I brought along some Lord of the Rings swords as props, and we couldn’t resist having a fight for the cameras – albeit a very slow, laborious one!
He was a gracious, intelligent man, who could speak multiple languages and clearly had a razor–sharp mind.
As you’d expect from such a living legend, he was overflowing with anecdotes, gossip and reminiscences.
He was the ultimate name dropper – he would rattle off name after name, each one a bigger Hollywood legend than the next.
He did it not in a boastful or vulgar way, but with reverence and respect for everyone he’d worked with.
He was a proper gentleman, and he’ll be very missed.