Christopher Lee, portrait, backstage at the Golden Gods Awards in 2014
Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns

He was Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, Bond Villian Francisco Scaramanga, Sherlock Holmes and Mycroft Holmes. He was Death and he was Lucifer. He was Count Dooku, Saruman and Lord Summerisle. He hunted Nazis and recorded heavy metal albums. He fluently spoke English, Italian, French, German and Spanish, while being "moderately proficient" in Sweedish, Russian and Greek and "conversational" in Mandarin Chinese.

He was Sir Christopher Lee, probably the greatest character actor of all time. Lee passed Sunday at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, after being hospitalized for respiratory problems and heart failure at the age of 93.

A career that spanned nearly 70 years, began as one of his first film roles was an uncreditted part in Laurence Olivier's 1948 film version of Hamlet, as a spear carrier. The film also featured the film debut of a frequent Lee counterpart, Peter Cushing. In 1951, Lee secured a role in Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. as a Spanish captain. He was cast when the director asked him if he could speak Spanish and fence, both of which he was able to do.

Lee played villains early in his career, his most notable early role being that of Dracula in a sequence of Hammer Horror films. Lee's first film for Hammer was 1957's The Curse of Frankenstein, in which he played Frankenstein's monster, with Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein. It was the first film he and Cushing were credited together. They went on to appear in over twenty films together and became close friends. A year later, Lee co-starred with Boris Karloff in the film Corridors of Blood, but it was his appearance as Frankenstein's monster led to his portraying the Transylvanian vampire in the 1958 film Dracula. He would follow it with 1959's, Uncle Was a Vampire.

Lee returned to the role of Dracula in Hammer's Dracula: Prince of Darkness in 1965. This performance is notable in that Lee had no lines, merely hissing his way through the film. There are several versions of this story, the most notable being that Lee himself stated that he refused to speak the poor dialogue he was given. Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster claims that the script did not contain any lines for the character. This film set the standard for most of the Dracula sequels (including Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Scars of Dracula, Dracula A.D. 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula) in the sense that half the film's running time was spent on telling the story of Dracula's resurrection and the character's appearances were brief.

Christopher Lee in A Case Of Red Eye
Photo by BIPS/Getty Images

Lee's work for Hammer left him feeling typcast by the horror genre. So, in 1977, Lee left England for America, concerned at being typecast as had friends Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. His first American film was the disaster film Airport '77. Lee then surprised many people with his willingness to go along with a joke, by appearing as guest host on NBC's Saturday Night Live in 1978. As a result of this appearance, Steven Spielberg cast him in the John Belushi comedy 1941. Lee turned down a role in the 1980 disaster spoof Airplane!, which was made around the same time, later calling that decision "a big mistake."

Lee had many character roles throughout the 80's and 90's, but it was in his role as Saruman in the The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, that Lee would be reborn to a new generation. The actor stated often that he had a decades-long dream to play Gandalf, but by the time the first film went into production, he was too old and limitated to play the role. The role of Saruman, by contrast, required no horseback riding and much less fighting.

Lee, a huge fan of the book trilogy, had met J.R.R. Tolkien once (making him the only person involved in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy to have done so). In addition, he performed for the album The Lord of the Rings: Songs and Poems by J.R.R. Tolkien in 2003. Lee's appearance in the final film in the trilogy, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, was cut from the theatrical release, but the scene was reinstated in the extended edition.

The Lord of the Rings marked the start of a major career revival that continued in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), in which he played the villainous Count Dooku. Lee did most of the swordplay himself, though a double was required for the long shots with more vigorous footwork. Lee became a regular in Tim Burton movies, appearing in six productions for Burton:  Sleepy Hollow, Corpse Bride (co-directed by Burton and Mike Johnson) a small role in the Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and as the voice of the Jabberwocky in Burton's adaptation of  Alice in Wonderland alongside Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway. Lee's final project with Burton was 2012 screen adaptation of the gothic soap-opera Dark Shadows (his third movie with Depp).

In January 2011, Lee announced on his website that he would be reprising the role of Saruman for the prequel film The Hobbit. Lee had originally said he would have liked to have shown Saruman's corruption by Sauron, but would not be comfortable flying to New Zealand at his age.The production was adjusted to accommodate the actor's travel concerns and allow him to participate in the film from London. Lee says he worked on his role for the films over the course of four days, portraying Saruman as a kind and noble wizard, before his subsequent fall into darkness, as depicted in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

The man born Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2009 for for services to drama and charity. During his career, he appeared in over 240 movies, his final appearance was 2015's Angels In Notting Hill. He also appeared in over 100 guest television appearances, contributed talents to 17 video games and released 6 albums. Lee was 93

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