UPDATED with quotes: Legendary British actor Sir Christopher Lee has died after being hospitalized for respiratory problems and heart failure. He was 93. Lee, who played Dracula in a series of classic Hammer horror films and was Saruman in the Lord Of The Rings and Hobbit movies, among many other iconic roles, passed away on Sunday at London’s Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. The Guardian reports that the decision to release the news only today was made so that his wife could inform family members first. The couple had been married for over 50 years.
Lee, born in London in 1922, served in the Second World War and turned to acting in 1947 soon after his tour of duty was over. His first notable film role was in gothic romance Corridor Of Mirrors, a mystery directed by Terence Young. The next year, he had an uncredited role in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet which saw him work with Peter Cushing. The two would later go on to make 20 films together. In the 1950s he began his association with Hammer, playing The Creature in 1957’s The Curse Of Frankenstein. The next year he became Dracula for the first time in Hammer’s Horror Of Dracula. His other films as the vampire included Dracula: Prince Of Darkness, Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, Count Dracula, Dracula A.D. 1972 and The Satanic Rites Of Dracula.
“Sir Christopher Lee was my friend. I think of him every day, and I always will,” said director Martin Scorsese, who worked with Lee on 2011’s Hugo. “We both wished that we’d been able to work together more, but it was a joy to make Hugo together. And to just be with him, just listening to his stories, in that beautiful baritone voice, stories about his time in the war, his time working during the heyday of Hammer, on all those wonderful pictures that are now considered to be classics, on eight decades in movies.
“At a certain point they realized what a treasure they had, and they made him Sir Christopher. And that’s as it should be. He was a great actor, a wonderful friend, a real professional, and I’m really going to miss him.”
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Outside of his relationship with Hammer, for whom he also starred in The Mummy, Rasputin, The Mad Monk and The Hound Of The Baskervilles, Lee also played Dr Fu Manchu in the late ’60s. He went on to star as Lord Summerisle in 1973 classic The Wicker Man and was Scaramanga in 1974 James Bond movie The Man With The Golden Gun.
Lee was introduced to a new legion of fans when he first played the evil Saruman in 2001’s The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring. He continued in that role for each of the trilogy’s installments and was also Count Dooku in Star Wars prequels Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith. More recently, he reprised his role as Saruman in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies. His other recent credits include Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, and voice work in Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland and Corpse Bride, among other collaborations.
Away from acting, Lee was also a singer, releasing a series of Heavy Metal records. The most recent was an EP at Christmas 2014 titled “Darkest Carols, Faithful Sing.”
The prolific actor was awarded the BAFTA Fellowship in 2011 and the BFI Fellowship in 2013. He was knighted in 2009. Per The Guardian, Lee still has fantasy film Angels In Notting Hill to be released. He was also due to star in The 11th with Uma Thurman.
In an interview in 2013, Lee said of acting, “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.”
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