I just saw the news that Sir Christopher Lee passed away on Sunday, at the venerable age of ninety-three. This is all the more impressive if you consider that he still kicked ass in the final Hobbit film that was released last year.
If I had to describe Lee in one word it would be bad-ass, both on screen and off. On screen he excelled as a villain. We all know him as Saruman from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels. But he also played the big three movie monsters of the fifties, namely Frankenstein’s monster, Count Dracula (several times), and The Mummy. Then he was the Bond villain, Scaramanga (The Man With The Golden Gun), Rasputin, Count Rochefort from Dumas’s The Three Musketeers and Willy Wonka’s demented dentist dad in Tim Burton’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And as a voice actor he brought to life, among others, Terry Pratchett’s Death, and Lewis Carrol’s Jabberwocky in the Tim Burton adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.
But off screen he was just as incredible. I mentioned him playing Rasputin above. Would you believe that as a child he had met the men who’d killed the real Rasputin and was later told by Rasputin’s daughter that he actually looked a bit like her father? Or that he’d witnessed the last public guillotine execution in France and was friends with the ‘Last Hangman’ of England? How about that in the Second World War he was a pilot in the RAF (he did his flight training in South Africa) and involved in special operations with the SAS (though never revealed exactly what he did) and knows how to handle a sword? And how many members of the LOTR cast and crew can claim that they had actually known J.R.R. Tolkien? (Edit: None, apparently.) He was a descendant of Charlemagne and was engaged to a Swedish noblewoman, an engagement to which the king of Sweden himself gave consent. But they later called off the wedding and he married a Danish model instead.
But the thing that blew me away when I first learned about it was that he was also the world’s oldest metalhead, starting his career in his late eighties, and the oldest living person ever to make it onto the Billboard Hot 100 charts at ninety-one and a half years old. He had an incredible voice and released several heavy metal albums, the last one, a Christmas album of all things, a mere six months ago. One of his albums, Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross even received the Spirit of Metal award at the Metal Hammer Golden Gods ceremony in 2010. You can watch the one music video produced from that album below (be warned, it’s a little…surreal).
No one can dispute that Sir Christopher Lee has had an exceptional life. He was a living legend. Living he is not anymore, but he’ll always remain legendary.