The distinguished British actor was known for his role in several Dracula films and, in recent years, The Lord of the Rings

By Tim Nudd
June 11, 2015 08:25 AM
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty

Sir Christopher Lee, the distinguished British actor known in recent years for playing Saruman in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Count Dooku in several Star Wars films, has died at 93, according to reports.

Lee died last Sunday after being hospitalized for respiratory problems and heart failure, reports the Guardian.

The paper said Lee’s wife Birgit – a Danish former model who married Lee in 1961 – waited to release the news so she could inform family members first.

Lee became famous through the horror genre, starring as Dracula in a number of films beginning in the late 1950s. He considered his best work to have been in the 1998 biopic Jinnah, in which he played the title role as Pakistan’s founder, and 1973’s The Wicker Man, which was a horror film. And he played a Bond villain in 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun.

Later in his career, he appeared in a number of Tim Burton films, including Sleepy Hollow, Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows.

Lee drew acclaim for his bad-guy roles as Saruman in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and as Count Dooku in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. In all, he appeared in more than 200 films in his career.

“Making films has never just been a job to me, it is my life,” he said in a 2013 interview. “I have some interests outside of acting – I sing and I’ve written books, for instance – but acting is what keeps me going, it’s what I do, it gives life purpose.”

Born Christopher Frank Carandini Lee on May 27, 1922, he was the son of an army colonel who had fought in World War I. Lee himself would spend time in the Royal Air Force during World War II, retiring in 1946 with the rank of flight lieutenant.

Soon after, he became interested in acting. At 6’5″, he was considered by some to be too tall to be an actor, but Lee persevered through 10 years of mostly small roles and eventually found success in a series of Hammer Horror films, of which Dracula was the first.

The great-grandson of Marie Carandini, who had been a successful opera singer, Lee was also drawn to music. He recorded opera music himself and was drawn to heavy metal as well. He worked with bands including Rhapsody of Fire and Manowar, and in 2010 he released his own symphonic metal album, Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross – as well as a follow-up, Charlemagne: The Omens of Death, in 2013.

Lee and his only child, daughter Christina, both recorded spoken vocals on Rhapsody of Fire’s 2011 album From Chaos to Eternity.

After 65 years in film, Lee reflected on his acting life in a 2011 interview with Britain’s Telegraph.

“I’ve never looked on myself as a star,” he said. “Never. To me a star is a giant, and where are the giants today? The Tracys, the Coopers, the Flynns?”

Asked who among the new generation he did admire, Lee replied, “Leonardo DiCaprio. And my good friend Johnny Depp.”

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