Tribute To A Legend

Artwork Tsuneo Sanda

Sir Christopher Lee was a very tall man, about 6’5″, who really was larger than life. He was the stuff of legend, where his adventures were the events of the 20th century and his acquaintances were a who’s who of the past 100 years. He knew former Yugoslavian dictator Tito from their time during WWII. He was the only LOTR cast member who had actually met JRR Tolkien. He not only played Rasputin in a film, he met the “mad monk”‘s daughter (she was awestruck by the resemblance, especially in the eyes) AND he met the men who had killed Rasputin. I would joke that he was the Queen’s answer to Chuck Norris but he truly was in a class by himself.

Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was the son of a miltary officer and a mother of Italian aristocratic descent. He was proudly a direct descendant of Charlemagne. His step-cousin was none other than James Bond creator Ian Fleming. When Lee was just 17, he briefly enlisted with the Finnish army to fight the Soviets and a year or so later, he ended up with the Royal Air Force. From there he was attached to the Special Air Service (SAS), specifically the Special Operations Executive. Whatever he did during this time, he took with him to the grave in spite of numerous inquiries from historians and reporters. He said he took a lifetime oath and well, he meant it. Many have heard the anecdote about Lee responding, “I do not have to imagine” to Peter Jackson telling him to imagine the sound of a knife going through someone’s back. But whatever he did, it was likely under deep cover. He spoke a number of languages and I remember a friend in Germany telling me about an interview he’d seen on t.v. with Lee. Lee not only conducted the interview in fluent German, he’d also spoken like a native. My friend said if he didn’t already know who Lee was, he’d never guess in a million years Lee was British. Again, Fleming was a relative of his and he later had campaigned to have Lee play a role in one of the earlier films. (Lee finally scored the role of Francisco Scaramanga in the James Bond flick “The Man With The Golden Gun” in 1974.) Lee also worked with the legendary Gurkhas and wrapped up the war by chasing down Nazi war criminals. Lee was decorated by several countries for his service during the war.

That would be enough for most people but Lee was just getting started. In the late ’40s, he got into acting and became one of the most prolific perfomers in film history. By the early 2000s, he’d appeared in over 200 films and his longest “dry spell” was a couple of years. It’s incredible to think how many big movie stars came and went, how many went from the A-list to obscurity, while Lee chugged along in mostly character roles. Even though he’d “retired” last year, he’d decided to sign on with a movie that’s now in pre-production.

Lee made his greatest mark in genre films and particularly as villains. He co-starred with Peter Cushing, another future Star Wars villain, in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” in 1959. He reinvented Count Dracula for a new generation of filmgoers with Hammer’s vampire flicks when he got to appear again with Cushing; his first role with Hammer was as Frankenstein’s monster. “The Wicker Man,” in 1973, gave Lee one of his most famous roles and one that remained a favorite of his. Aside from his turn as a Bond villain, Lee spent the next several years in movies big and small, great and not-so-great, but he always gave it his all.

That would be enough for most people, but not Christopher Lee. Lee got to reinvent himself again in the double-whammy of the LOTR trilogy as Saruman and as Count Dooku in AOTC and ROTS. (Lee also voiced Count Dooku in the Clone Wars pilot/movie.) Who gets a chance like that in his 80s? I remember how thrilled I was when announced Lee’s casting in 2000. What an awesome pick it was! While the long shots in many of his Star Wars dueling scenes were with doubles, Lee did his own dueling in the close-ups. He was 78-79 while filming AOTC and 82 when he shot ROTS! He’d filmed more film duels than any other actor.

That would be enough for most people but not Christopher Lee. His many interests included rock and roll. He particularly fond of what he called symphonic heavy metal and he cranked out some concept albums and Christmas tunes while most people his age were chilling in a nursing home. He’d also narrated some other acts’ metal albums. He was rockin’ in his ’90s while people a third of his age had given up and started listening to soft ballads.

Capping it off was a knighthood in 2009.

Christopher Lee had dueled Errol Flynn and Yoda, appeared on the cover of a Paul McCartney and Wings album cover, narrated a softcore flick (without his prior knowledge), hosted Saturday Night Live AND introduced Meatloaf, voiced cartoons, worked with everyone from Roger Corman to Tim Burton, played Saruman again for the Hobbit films, voiced cartoons and video games, and was the oldest man to chart on Billboard (with Jingle Hells at #18). He’d witnessed France’s last public execution by guillotine. He was the slayer of Nazis and could only be bested by the likes of Von Helsing, Anakin Skywalker, James Bond, and Gandalf. He was also married for 53 years and the father of a daughter, Christina.

I imagine Lee will have a private send off for family and close friends, but if you ask me, the only appropriate funeral would be a Viking-type affair where his mortal remains are sent off on a burning boat with a bunch of Valkyries shredding metal guitars at full volume. It cannot be any less awesome for someone who brought awesomeness to this world for 10 decades.

Rock in peace, Count Dooku. Thanks for being part of the saga.


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5 Responses to “Tribute To A Legend”

  1. Adam D. Bram (The Nilbog) Says:

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    My favorite lines by my three favorite roles:

    “Your love of the halfling’s leaf has clearly slowed your mind” – Saruman, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

    “We can’t let them get away; all they’d have to do is to eat three or four children and there’d be the most APPALLING publicity!” – Dr. Catheter, Gemlins 2: The New Batch

    And of course…

    “It may be difficult to secure your release” – Count Dooku/Darth Tyrannus, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

  2. Helen Says:

    I cried when I heard he died. He was quite awesome. I loved Count Dooku. Amazing actor, man, and SW character. RIP.

  3. Hunk a Junk Says:

    For saga fans, Christopher Lee’s role as Count Dooku is really a non-debatable argument in favor of the PT.

  4. Slicer87 Says:

    Sad to hear of his passing but he had a long and rich life and stayed active long after most people just give up living.

  5. Jim Raynor Says:

    Christopher Lee had a remarkably long career, and it’s amazing how he made such a comeback in the blockbusters so late in his life. Really enjoyed his performance as Dooku. He will be missed.

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