Sir Christopher Lee, the legendary screen actor who has portrayed some of the biggest characters in cinematic history, has sadly passed away at the age of 93.
Sources close to his family have revealed that the actor died at 8.30am on Sunday morning at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London. Over the past three weeks he had been treated there for heart failure and respiratory problems. His 93rd birthday, on the 27th May, was spent in hospital.
His wife, Birgit Kroenke, decided to inform close family members and friends before making a public announcement of Sir Christopher’s death. The pair were married for over 50 years.
Despite finding fame as a Hammer Horror star back in the 1950s, the veteran found that the last 15 years of his successful career were among the most fruitful. Portraying roles in blockbuster franchises like Count Dooku in the Star Wars films and Saruman in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Lee was able to introduce himself to a new generation of cinematic fans. He also had success in a partnership with director Tim Burton, which included films Alice in Wonderland and Sleepy Hollow.
His illustrious career started in the 1940s, but it was Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, which was released in 1958, that made him a star. Alongside Sir Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, Lee played the terrifying lead role. He and Cushing remained the closest of friends until the latter’s death in 1994.
He did not want to be seen as just a horror actor however, and moved on to memorable roles as Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man (1973) and Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun (1974). The latter role had a personal element to it as Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, was his cousin.
In 2009 Her Majesty the Queen recognised Lee’s contribution to the film industry by awarding him with a knighthood. Two years later in 2011, he received a BAFTA fellowship and said he would never retire: “I hate being idle. As dear Boris [Karloff] used to say, when I die I want to die with my boots on.” He had recently signed to a new film, The 11th, which was to be an ensemble drama with Uma Thurman, and was set in the hours leading up to the attack on the Wolrd Trade Center on September 11th 2001. It was due to start filming in November.
In 2011 Lee also said that his one last remaining ambition was to work with Clint Eastwood. He also revealed that the film of which he was most proud was Jinnah, in which he played the founder of Pakistan: “It is certainly the most important role I have ever played, because the responsibility on my shoulders was immense.”
Sir Christopher Lee never saw himself as a star. The actor remained modest throughout his career and he was reticent about his Second World War record as a member of the Special Operations Executive: “I was attached to the SAS from time to time but we are forbidden – former, present, future – to discuss any specific operations. Let’s just say I was in Special Forces and leave it at that.”
He married Birgit, known as Gitte, in 1961 and they had a daughter, Christina. Asked for the secret of a long-lived marriage, he replied: “Marry someone wonderful.”
Sir Christopher Lee died on the 7th June 2015, aged 93.