Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was born in 1922 in London, England, and attended Wellington College from the age of 14 to 17. He fought in the Second World War, after which he began his career in acting.
Initially, Lee struggled to establish himself in the film industry, until the turning point in 1957, when he played a monster in The Curse of Frankenstein. The film was very successful, and resulted in Lee getting a number of roles, playing the antagonist in numerous movies.
So successful was Lee, that he became one of the most memorable villains of all time. Over the years, he gave several stellar performances, and received numerous awards and acclamation. He is especially remembered for all his portrayals of Count Dracula.
However, all the above represents just the tip of the iceberg. In the following lines, we present more interesting facts about the amazing life and career of Christopher Lee.
2) His mother was an Italian contessa. Through his maternal bloodline, he was the descendant of Emperor Charlemagne of the Holy Roman Empire.
3) In the 1920s, when he was a child, Lee met Prince Yusupov and Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, who were responsible for the murder of the famous Russian monk and mystical faith healer Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin.
4) When he was seventeen years old, he witnessed the public execution of Eugen Weidmann in Paris, the last man to be executed by guillotine.
5) Christopher Lee enrolled with the Royal Air Force in World War II, but due to a problem in his optic nerve, he wasn’t allowed to fly. As a result, he became an intelligence officer for the Long Range Desert Patrol.
6) During the Second World War, Lee fought the Nazis in North Africa. He helped recapture Sicily, and also prevented a mutiny among his troops. He also had a few close encounters with death, when he contracted malaria six times in one year, and also when he climbed Mount Vesuvius only three days prior to its eruption.
7) Later in the war, he became a part of Winston Churchill’s secret agency, called ‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’. Most of the missions carried out by this agency are still classified. However, there are speculations that it involved espionage, sabotage, and reconnaissance.
8) Regarding the war, Lee had this to say – “I’ve seen many men die right in front of me – so many in fact that I’ve become almost hardened to it. Having seen the worst that human beings can do to each other, the results of torture, mutilation and seeing someone blown to pieces by a bomb, you develop a kind of shell. But you had to. You had to. Otherwise we would never have won.”
When the war ended, he was awarded for his bravery by the British, Polish, Czech, and Yugoslavian governments.
9) Along with English, he could speak both Italian and French. Following the war, Lee continued to support the Central Registry of War Criminals and Security Suspects in its efforts to track down Nazis.
10) Christopher Lee did all the things mentioned above before the age of 25, at which point, he decided to give acting a try. One of the best opera singers of the time, Tenor Jussi Bjorling, considered Lee’s voice to be remarkable, and wanted him to join the opera. However, he wanted to pursue a career in acting instead.
11) In 1955, during the filming of the movie ‘The Dark Avengers’, Errol Flynn got slightly drunk, and in a sword-fighting sequence, cut Lee’s hand so badly that his finger almost came off. Following this, Lee struck Flynn’s wig off while he was still wearing it. Flynn locked himself in his trailer and wouldn’t come out until Lee told him that it was only an accident.
12) The creator of James Bond, Ian Flemming, was Lee’s step-cousin. Flemming initially wanted Lee to play the role of Bond, although it had nothing to do with Lee’s experience as a secret agent in the Second World War.
13) During his initial acting career, Lee acted in many negative roles, including a mummy and that of Frankenstein’s monster. However, he was best known for his portrayal of Count Dracula in numerous films.
14) He played Count Dracula so many times, that he got tired of it, and attempted to quit Hammer films – the studio which produced these movies. However, the studio executives were able to guilt him into coming back, citing that many people in the studio would lose their livelihood if he didn’t help them produce a hit movie. Lee came back but refused to speak his dialogs, and instead resorted to hissing and yelling, which was how the film was made.
15) In 1950, Lee got engaged to Henriette Von Rosen. However, her father, Count Fritz Von Rosen, didn’t approve of Lee, and hired private detectives to investigate the actor’s background. He even went to the extent of demanding that Lee obtain the blessings of the king of Sweden. Always game for a challenge, Lee went ahead and got that done.
16) Lee was a die-hard fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, and would read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy once every year for most of his life. The story goes that, he met Tolkien randomly in a pub, and received his blessings to play the role of Gandalf, if a movie was made on the books.
17) When there was news that Hollywood would be making The Lord of the Ring (LotR), Lee purposely accepted the role of a wizard in the flop 1997 TV series – The New Adventures of Robin Hood. He did this to display his ability of portraying a wizard. When it was confirmed that Peter Jackson was going to direct the LotR trilogy, Lee sent a letter to him, along with his photo in a wizard’s getup, requesting that he be considered for the movie. Lee did get a role, but owing to his previous record of playing a villain, he was selected for the role of the wizard Saruman the White.
18) During the shooting of Saruman’s death scene in the ‘Return of the King’, Peter Jackson was describing to Lee the sound which a person being stabbed in the back would make. To this, Lee gravely replied that, he had seen many people being stabbed in the back, and very well knew what sound they made.
19) Maybe it was the result of what he had witnessed when he was young, but Lee was profoundly interested in the history of public executions. He once stated that, he could recount the names of each and every public executioner that England had employed, all the way back to the 15th century!
20) In 2008, Guinness declared Christopher Lee as the most connected actor in the world. He was believed to be able to connect to any actor in 2.59 steps (like in the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon).
21) In 2010, at the age of 88, he released his first full heavy metal album, titled ‘Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross’. That year, he was awarded the ‘Spirit of Metal’ award at the Metal Hammer Golden Gods ceremony. He became the oldest metal performer and musician ever to make it to the Billboard music charts.
22) The following is a list of a few of the iconic movie roles of Sir Christopher Lee:
Frankenstein’s Monster in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
Count Dracula in The Horror of Dracula (1958)
The Mummy in The Mummy (1959)
Sir Henry Baskerville in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
Mycroft Holmes in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)
Fu Manchu in The Face of Fu Manchu (1965)
Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man (1973)
Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
Saruman the White in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Sith Lord Count Dooku in Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
23) He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his services to drama. He was Knighted on June 13, 2009, in the Queen’s Birthday Honors List, for his services to drama and charity. He was also made a Commander of the Order of St. John, on January 16, 1997.
Sir Christopher Lee passed away at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital on June 7, 2015 (age 93), where he was being treated for respiratory problems and heart failure.