Sir Christopher Lee, one of Hollywood’s most prolific and recognizable actors (both in face and voice), has died at age 93.
The British actor had been hospitalized at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London for respiratory problems and heart failure and died Sunday morning, according to multiple sources. News of his passing was delayed at the request of his wife, who wanted to inform family members before making the news public.
An accomplished actor whose career spanned more than 65 years of near-constant work in front of the camera and (in later years) as a voice actor, Lee first rose to prominence as a recurring star in Hammer Films’ horror movies, first playing Frankenstein’s monster and then embarking on a memorable run as Dracula that spanned seven films for the studio.
Modern movie audiences might best remember Lee as the wizard Saruman in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, as well as Count Dooku in the final two films of the Star Wars prequel trilogy.
Over the course of a career spanning more than 280 roles, Lee was a frequent presence in science-fiction, horror, and fantasy films, earning praise for his work in projects such as 1973’s The Wicker Man and 1983’s House of the Long Shadows in addition to his Hammer Films productions and higher-profile projects.
Lee’s career wasn’t limited to just genre films, though, and the actor went out of his way to avoid being typecast over the years. In 1974, he played the charismatic assassin Francisco Scaramanga in the James Bond film The Man With the Golden Gun, and also played Sherlock Holmes in multiple films over three decades. Other memorable projects included the disaster film Airport ’77 (his first American film) and Steven Spielberg’s World War II comedy 1941.
In 1998, Lee played the founder of modern Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in the film Jinnah. He later cited this role as his favorite performance of his career.
Along with his on-camera work, Lee’s deep, iconic voice made him a popular voice actor and vocalist over the years. Lee was a regular member of the voice cast in Tim Burton’s animated and live-action features, with roles in The Corpse Bride and Alice in Wonderland (as well as brief, on-screen roles in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and other Burton films), among other projects. He also voiced characters in several major video game releases, including many of the games based on his films and several installments of the Kingdom Hearts franchise.
In recent years, Lee released a series of heavy metal albums that featured his vocals over symphonic heavy-metal scores. Along with two holiday-themed EPs in his “Heavy Metal Christmas” series, he released several full albums, including 2010’s Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross and 2013’s Charlemagne: The Omens of Death. He received the “Spirit of Metal” award in 2010 for his contributions to the heavy-metal genre.
Lee was knighted in 2009 for his services to drama and charity, and was awarded the BAFTA ( British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Fellowship in 2011.
Lee’s final on-screen role will likely be the upcoming fantasy film Angels in Notting Hill, in which he played a character tasked with overseeing the work of angels.
“Making films has never just been a job to me, it is my life,” said Lee in a 2013 interview with The Guardian. “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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