Sir Christopher Lee, whose career in film began in the 1940s and continued into the era of the fantasy blockbuster, has died aged 93. He first became famous as a regular star in the series of gothic horror films made by Hammer in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, notably as Count Dracula in the 1958 Dracula and its sequels.
His turn as Lord Summerisle in the cult 1973 horror film The Wicker Man is equally immortal, while as Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) Lee played one of James Bond’s most memorable adversaries.
In later years, Lee became a favourite for a new generation of audiences after appearing as Saruman in The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies as well as Count Dooku in two Star Wars films.
Lee was born Christopher Frank Carandini Lee on 27 May 1922. After serving in the Second World War, he got his first acting break at the Rank studio. He has a small, uncredited part in Laurence Olivier’s version of Hamlet (1948) and can be seen in supporting roles in films such as Scott of the Antarctic (1948) and The Crimson Pirate (1952).
It was his role as the mute monster in Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) that sent him on the path to stardom after he subsequently landed the suave, deadly lead in the studio’s follow-up, Dracula, the following year. Among the finest of his films for Hammer is the occult thriller The Devil Rides Out (1968).
As recently as 2014, he was seen on screen in the last of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.
He was awarded a CBE in 2001 and made a BFI Fellow in 2013, after being presented with the honour by his friend Johnny Depp.
Amanda Nevill, BFI CEO, comments: “Sir Christopher Lee, a BFI Fellow, was a distinctive and enduring presence in British and international cinema for almost 70 years. He leaves behind an unforgettable legacy of film and television performance. His contribution to cinema history spans such films as the definitive Dracula for Hammer Films through Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, and the seminal The Wicker Man. His personal favourite was the title role in Jinnah. He had a unique ability to appeal to each successive generation, gaining a new wave of fans as Saruman in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and in Tim Burton’s films. British cinema pays tribute to this global legend.”
As a small tribute to Lee we’ve made one of his earliest films, Cross-Roads, available for free. Watch Cross-Roads now on BFI Player.