Growing up, my father was a huge James Bond fan. When I left for college in the fall of 1995, Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as 007 hadn’t been released yet, and my father had the VHS tapes of every single Bond movie that had been released up to that point, including the Peter Sellers version of Casino Royale and the non-Eon production, Never Say Never Again. My dad loves Sean Connery, but his favorite Bond movies were the early Roger Moore films. Growing up in the 80s, Roger Moore was the first Bond I was aware of, and has remained my favorite, even though I do love the Connery films and his portrayal of the ultra-smooth British spy. Live and Let Die has remained my favorite Bond film of all time, even with its weird, exaggerated “Blaxploitation” feel.1.
My second favorite Bond movie is The Man with the Golden Gun, and Francisco Scaramanga remains, to this day, my favorite Bond villain. Unfortunately, the great actor who brought this character to life has left this world. Sir Christopher Lee passed away last Sunday, June 7th at a hospital in London.
Sir Christopher Lee is known all over the world for his extremely varied and voluminous film work.2 After 10 years of what he referred to as “apprenticeship” in film,3 Lee would get his big break as Frankenstein’s monster in the Hammer Horror film The Curse of Frankenstein. This would also start his working relationship and close friendship with the late Peter Cushing, with whom Lee appeared in more than twenty films. The Hammer period of his career brought him to prominence, especially in the role of Count Dracula, which he played 10 times for Hammer, and an additional appearance in an Italian comedy/horror film titled Dracula and Son. He would also appear in horror films for other studios, such as the Jekyll and Hyde adaptation I, Monster and The Wicker Man, one of his favorite films.
At a certain point, Lee decided to step away from the horror genre, and began appearing in other films, like the aforementioned The Man With the Golden Gun, and Richard Lester’s adaptation of The Three Musketeers. He once told John Carpenter that one of the biggest mistakes of his career was not taking the role of Dr. Samuel Loomis, in Carpenter’s original Halloween when it was offered to him. He even moved to America in the late 1970s in an effort to avoid being typecast in horror films. From the late 1970s through the 1990s, he would appear in films as disparate as the disaster film Airport 77, the second Reb Brown Captain America tv movie, the animated film The Last Unicorn, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, and Police Academy: Mission to Moscow.4
In the early 2000s, Lee would return to prominence in two major media properties. Peter Jackson cast him as Saruman in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and George Lucas cast him as Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. He would work with Tim Burton on five films, 5 and appear in a number of other film projects, including Martin Scorcese’s Hugo and reprising his role of Saruman in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy.
While Lee is best known as an actor, he had other successful careers as well. Before becoming an actor, he served in World War II, as a member of the Royal Air Force. In a 2011 interview, he revealed that he was a member of the SAS, the British Special Forces.
“I was attached to the SAS from time to time but we are forbidden – former, present, or future – to discuss any specific operations.”
In the 2000s, Lee became known in some circles for recording in the genre of heavy metal. Some of this came in the form of heavy metal covers of songs such as “The Toreador Song” from Bizet’s opera Carmen. He also released two full heavy metal concept albums: Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross and Charlemagne: The Omens of Death, as well as several Christmas themed heavy metal albums.
Sir Christopher Lee was a man who embraced life and lived it to the fullest. He will be missed.
What can I say? I also still love the Shaft films, Black Caesar, Three the Hard Way, etc.↩
This period included a role as a “spear carrier” in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet.↩
Yep…you read that right.↩
Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Alice in Wonderland, and Dark Shadows↩