Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee, CBE, CStJ was born in London on May 27th, 1922. He lived every day of his life until he didn’t.
His career as an actor spanned seven decades and literally hundred of films, including roles that were both iconic and sublime. He is not the most famous person to have played the role of Frankenstein’s monster or Dracula, nor the most infamous person to have starred in a movie called The Wicker Man, but he put his stamp on everything he did.
His long career as an actor followed an initial foray into office work and then extensive and storied service for the Allies in World War II. Newly returned from war, he found his old life unsatisfying and the staid paths laid out before him unappealing, and so he reinvented himself as an actor.
He spent a decade doing bit parts and background roles, constantly being told he was too tall for an actor. Lee persevered in the face of what he saw as a non-sequitur, and would eventually prove his critics wrong with a career that ran the gamut from big budget tentpole blockbusters to B movies to prestige pics. It could be surmised that he used his physical stature to his advantage, but if anything, it only complemented the tremendous personal presence he brought to his roles. He played everybody from Sherlock Holmes to Georges Seurat, while also doing voice work and recording several heavy metal albums.
In 2005—at the age of 87—he was referred to as the world’s most bankable star after movies he was connected to posted record grosses. Notably, he portrayed notable villains in three of the biggest movie franchises of all time: James Bond, Star Wars, and The Lord of the Rings.
In 2013, speaking on the subject of the retirement he never pursued, he said, “Making films has never just been a job to me, it is my life. 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.”[x]
In 2014, speaking of a lighthearted Christmas album he had just put out, he said, “At my age, the most important thing for me is to keep active by doing things that I truly enjoy.”[x]
Christopher Lee celebrated his 93rd and final birthday on May 27th.
He lived until June 7th.
Despite his penchant for playing monsters and monstrous people, the part for which I will always remind him most fondly is the kindly, avuncular voice of Death in animated adaptations of the beloved Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, a brilliant author who also lived.