Sir Christopher Lee, one of film’s greatest actors, sadly passed away on June 7, 2015 at the age of 93. Primarily known for his more recent roles in blockbuster film franchises such as Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, Lee had an enormous film career that spanned almost seven decades. Lee was so much more than an actor however and lived a long, extraordinary life that few could ever hope to replicate. His adventures and experiences could fill an entire book (two to be exact, as his autobiographies, “Tall, Dark & Gruesome” and “The Lord of Misrule”, can attest), but for brevity’s sake, here are 10 examples of why Sir Christopher Lee was such a fascinating man.
10. He Almost Appeared In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
One of Lee’s most popular roles was as the villainous sith lord Count Dooku in the otherwise dreadful Star Wars prequels, but he was almost hired for a role in the 1977 original. Lee was offered the part of Grand Moff Tarkin, the film’s other chief villain next to Darth Vader, but turned it down. The role would eventually go to Peter Cushing, who was actually Lee’s good friend in real life. Speaking of which…
9. He Was Best Friends With His Frequent On-Screen Enemy
Lee had a long and prosperous friendship with fellow British actor Peter Cushing. They first met on the set of Hamlet (1948) and the two went on to co-star together in many films. Ironically, despite often appearing as adversaries on-screen, the two were practically inseparable. Lee credited Cushing, who passed away in 1994, as his best friend and when he passed away, he was suitably heartbroken. About Cushing’s passing, Lee had this touching remark, “At some point of your lives, every one of you will notice that you have in your life one person, one friend whom you love and care for very much…when that person is gone, there will be nothing like that in your life ever again.”
8. Held The Record For Tallest Leading Actor
Standing at a towering 6’5″, Christopher Lee was a very tall actor, to the point where he was credited by Guinness in 2013 as holding the record for the tallest actor in a leading role. Lee’s height actually hindered him early in his career when he was trying out for supporting roles, as he was almost always taller than the leading male actors. Of course, his height was a boon for his frequent appearances as an on-screen villain, as his towering frame and low-register voice made him quite the imposing figure.
7. His List of Acting Credits Is Staggering
While he may not hold the record for the most roles ever played by an actor, Sir Christopher Lee’s acting resume is still truly staggering. According to IMDB, Lee had a total of 281 acting credits to his name over a period of approximately 70 years. His first credited appearance was on an episode of TV series Kaleidoscope in 1946 and Lee remained active right up until his death, with his final work done on The 11th, a film due out in 2016.
6. He Portrayed Dracula More Times Than Anyone Else
One of Lee’s most celebrated and famous roles was as the legendary vampire Dracula and it’s easy to see why. No other actor has played Dracula as much as Lee did, appearing as the villainous count no less than ten times. He first took the role in 1958’s Dracula and did it nine more times before finally hanging up his cape in the 1976 French production Dracula Père et Fils (Dracula and Son). It’s no wonder that Lee is considered by many to be the definitive cinematic Dracula.
5. Had Noble Heritage
As if Sir Christopher Lee’s actual life wasn’t fascinating enough, his family connections alone make him an interesting figure. His mother was a contessa of the Italian Cardini family, which was distantly related through marriage to the Borgias of renaissance times. Although not a nobleman, his father was a decorated Lieutenant Colonel in the British army who fought in the Boer War and the First World War. Lee’s godfather also happened to be Prince Alexander of Battenberg, a grandson of Queen Victoria. In 2004, Lee was given honorary citizenship in the Italian city of Casina, as his Italian ancestors’ castle was there.
4. He Was A Distant Cousin Of James Bond Author Ian Fleming
Lee had a lot of famous connections, given his Hollywood career and noble heritage, but one of his most interesting was his relation to author Ian Fleming, who wrote the James Bond series. Lee happened to be a distant cousin of Fleming and the two were good friends, regularly golfing together when Fleming was still alive. This connection had a big impact on Lee’s film career, as Lee was Fleming’s first choice for the role of Dr. No in the 1962 Bond film of the same name (the part went to Joseph Wiseman instead). Fleming would eventually get his wish when Lee was cast as assassin Scaramanga in 1974’s The Man With The Golden Gun.
3. He Had A Fascination With Executioners
Considering this was the same man who released metal albums into his 90s, it’s no surprise that Christopher Lee had many other interesting hobbies and interests. One of the most fascinating was his odd fixation with Britain’s capital punishment history, particularly its executioners. Allegedly, Lee could name every public executioner in the country’s history dating back to the 15th century. As far as hobbies go, a rapt fascination with executioners is a bit on the weird side, but considering Lee portrayed villains in about 85% of his films, it’s understandable that he had a bit of a dark side.
2. He Was A British Intelligence Officer During The Second World War
Christopher Lee didn’t begin his acting career until he was 25-years-old, as he was too busy fighting in the most significant conflict of the twentieth century. Lee initially joined the Royal Air Force as a pilot, but a problem with his optic nerve prevented him from flying. Eventually, he found his way into British intelligence, where his fluency in speaking French and German proved invaluable. He also participated in top secret missions with the SAS (Special Air Service). Of those, he had this to say: “Let’s just say I was in Special Forces and leave it at that. People can read in to that what they like.”
1. He Loved Music And Recorded A Heavy Metal Album
An avid music lover, Christopher Lee made headlines in 2010 when he released a full metal album called “Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross”(fun fact: Lee was a descendant of Charlemagne) at the age of 88. More than just a publicity stunt, the album received critical acclaim and was awarded the “Spirit of Metal” award at that year’s Metal Hammer Golden Gods ceremony. As if that wasn’t cool enough, Lee humorously described himself as “a young man right at the beginning of his career” during his acceptance speech. Lee stuck with his new passion right up until months before his death, most recently releasing a Christmas single in December 2014.