Christopher Lee Biography
Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee CBE CStJ was a legendary English actor and singer, who was born on May 27, 1922 in Belgravia, London. Lee spent a few years of his youth in Switzerland after his parents divorced, before moving back to England, where he attended Wagner’s private school in Queen’s Gate. As a student at Wellington College, Christopher Lee excelled in the classics, winning scholarships for his studies in Ancient Greek and Latin.
After a brief stint working as an office clerk for United States Lines, Lee attempted to become a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force after being called up for World War II, but was disqualified due to medical issues. Nevertheless, Lee persevered and found success as an intelligence officer in the RAF, where he used his multilingual skills to serve the Special Operations Executive.
Christopher Lee’s career as an actor took off after a lunch with his cousin Nicolò Carandini, the Italian Ambassador to Britain, who encouraged him to pursue a career in the industry. Lee’s film debut came in 1947 in Terence Young’s Corridor of Mirrors. Over the next decade, he made nearly 30 films, including The Cockleshell Heroes, Moulin Rouge, and The Cockleshell Heroes.
Lee’s association with Hammer Film Productions began with his portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), followed by his iconic portrayal of Count Dracula in the film Dracula (1958). Lee returned to the role of Dracula in multiple Hammer Horror films, including Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1965) and Scars of Dracula (1970). He also starred in other horror films for other companies between 1957 and 1977, including I, Monster (1971) and The Wicker Man (1973).
In addition to horror roles, Lee portrayed a variety of characters, including Rasputin in Rasputin, the Mad Monk (1966) and Sir Henry Baskerville in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959). He also played the character of Sherlock Holmes in 1962’s Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace and returned to Holmes films with The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970), where he played the smarter brother, Mycroft.
Despite being famous for his horror roles, Lee later turned away from the genre and pursued other roles, including Bond villain Francesco Scaramanga in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).
In 1977, Christopher Lee left the UK due to concerns about being typecast in horror films, like his close friends Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. He made his American debut in the disaster film Airport ’77. Lee then appeared as a guest host on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, which surprised many and resulted in Steven Spielberg casting him in 1941. Additionally, Lee co-starred with Bette Davis in Disney film Return from Witch Mountain.
Christopher Lee starred in many other films throughout the 1980s and 90s albeit in smaller films His career revival started with his role as Saruman in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and continued with his appearances in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, where he played the villainous Count Dooku.
He also played Dr. Wonka, Willy Wonka’s father, in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. After 35 years, Lee appeared in another Hammer film, The Resident, in 2011, and also in the critically acclaimed Hugo directed by Martin Scorsese. In 2012 Christopher Lee marked his fifth and final collaboration with Tim Burton in Burton’s film adaptation of Dark Shadows. Lee also reprised his role as Saruman for the prequel film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in the same year, and then again in 2014 for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, his last major appearance in a movie.
Christopher Lee starred in over 200 movies in total, and was kept busier with many television roles including Sherlock Holmes, Ivanhoe, The Avengers, Captain America II, Treasure Island to name a few.
Aside from acting, Christopher Lee lent his voice to numerous films and video games. He was multilingual, fluent in English, Italian, French, Spanish, and German, and had a moderate proficiency in Swedish, Russian, and Greek.
Lee was also an accomplished opera singer and a lifelong heavy metal fan. He released his first full-fledged heavy metal album, titled Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross, in 2010 at the age of 88. The album went on to win the Spirit of Metal Award at the 2010 Metal Hammer Golden Gods ceremony. He also released a metal Christmas album in 2012 and became the oldest metal performer and the oldest musician to ever make it onto the Billboard charts.
In the self-titled debut album by Hollywood Vampires, a supergroup featuring Johnny Depp, Alice Cooper, and Joe Perry, Lee served as a narrator on the track The Last Vampire. This marks his final appearance on a musical record, recorded shortly before his death.
Lee was knighted in 2009 for his services to drama and charity, and received the Steiger Award in 2010 and the BAFTA Fellowship in 2011. He was briefly engaged to Countess Henriette Ewa Agnes von Rosen, but ended the engagement before the wedding due to his financial insecurity. Lee was married to Birgit “Gitte” Krøncke, a Danish painter and former model, from 1961 until his death in 2015. He died at the age of 93 from respiratory problems and heart failure, shortly after celebrating his 93rd birthday.