Today, the 27 May 2012 marks the 90th birthday of one of the legends of the silver screen. Famous the world over for his numerous roles within horror and genre cinema, Christopher Lee is still working in films and, in his 80s, has
also been recognised in the heavy metal world.
The man behind the fangs
Christopher Lee played the prince of darkness in seven films for cult studio Hammer over the years. But these days he is probably better known to the younger generation as Saruman in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Count Dooku from the Star Wars prequels Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, or perhaps for the four films he has appeared in for director Tim Burton alongside Johnny Depp since 1999, including Willy Wonka’s dentist dad in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and this year’s vampire release Dark Shadows.
Lee has appeared in an astonishing number of films, clocking up in the region of 275 since 1946. His first Hammer film opposite Peter Cushing (who incidentally would have celebrated his 99th birthday yesterday) was 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein in which he played the creature to Cushing’s Frankenstein, the year before they first played Dracula and Van Helsing. But the very first film they appeared in together was Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet in 1948. Cushing played Osric while an uncredited Lee appeared as a spear carrier.
He has been both Sherlock Holmes and his more intelligent brother Mycroft (as well as Sir Henry Baskerville, once again opposite his great friend Peter Cushing in Hammer’s The Hound of the Baskervilles). Lee was also one of the most
urbane Bond villains in the film series. Although Lee appeared as Francisco Scaramanga opposite Roger Moore in The Man with the Golden Gun, he was first asked to be a Bond villain in 1962. Ian Fleming was Lee’s step-cousin
and wanted the actor for the role of Dr No in the first of the Bond films, but the producers had already signed up Joseph Wiseman.
His favourite role, in what he considers to be his best film, was that of Lord Summerisle in the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man, also starring Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland and another horror veteran Ingrid Pitt. Lee
was so keen to get the low budget film made that he and others reportedly worked on the production without pay.
From horror to heavy metal
Somewhat surprisingly, in his eighties Lee pursued his interest in heavy metal. He recorded a metal version of ‘The Toreador Song’ from Bizet’s Carmen with Inner Terrestrials. He appeared as the Wizard King narrator on four albums for Italian symphonic metallers Rhapsody of Fire as well as singing a duet with vocalist Fabio Leone on single ‘The Magic of the Wizard’s Dream’. And he paid tribute to a direct ancestor of his, the Emperor Charlemagne, on symphonic metal concept album ‘Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross’. Lee even worked with veteran metal band Manowar on Battle Hymns MMXI, a re-recording of their 1982 debut.
In 2010, Christopher Lee was presented with the Spirit of Metal award by Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi at Metal Hammer’s Golden Gods awards.
So happy 90th birthday to Sir Christopher Lee. May you have many, many more!
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