British actor Christopher Lee, evil count of cinema, dies aged 93

A file picture dated April 15, 2004 shows Christopher Lee during an interview at the Hotel Schweizerhof in Lucerne, Switzerland. The British actor has died at the age of 93 at a hospital in London, Britain on June 7, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA 
A file picture dated April 15, 2004 shows Christopher Lee during an interview at the Hotel Schweizerhof in Lucerne, Switzerland. The British actor has died at the age of 93 at a hospital in London, Britain on June 7, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA 

LONDON (REUTERS) – Master of the macabre Christopher Lee, who portrayed Dracula in outrageous Hammer Films horror classics but became known to later generations for roles in Star Wars and as the wizard Saruman in the Lord Of The Rings, has died aged 93.

Lee died last Sunday in hospital, where he had been undergoing treatment for respiratory problems, a copy of his death certificate posted online showed.

Lee’s agent, in an e-mailed statement, said his family “wishes to make no comment”.

Roger Moore, who played James Bond in The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) in which Lee was the villain Scaramanga, paid tribute to Lee on Twitter and offered condolences to his wife of 54 years, the former Danish model Birgit Kroncke, their daughter Christina and her husband, Juan Francisco Aneiros Rodriguez.

“It’s terrible when you lose an old friend, and Christopher Lee was one of my oldest,” Moore said. “We first met in 1948.”

The London-born Lee achieved fame from the late 1950s into the 1970s playing characters such as Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the Mummy for Hammer Films.

With his deep, mellifluous voice and ramrod 1.93m frame, Lee was the last English-language horror movie star in a line that traced back to silent era luminary Lon Chaney and included Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, Lee’s regular Hammer Films co-star.

Lee brought to his monsters a sense of pitifulness that he called “the loneliness of evil”.

Despite being a master of the horror genre, Lee did not even like the word. “It implies something nauseating, revolting, disgusting - which one sees too often these days. I prefer the word ‘fantasy,’” he told the New York Times in 2002.

Many leading directors sought out Lee’s talents, especially in the latter stages of his career when he was already elderly.

CAREER RENAISSANCE IN OLD AGE

He won new generations of fans after the turn of the century in some of the biggest money-makers in film history.

He played the evil Count Dooku, fighting Jedi knights in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack Of The Clones (2002) and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith (2005).

Lee was also the fiendish criminal genius Fu Manchu in five films, Scaramanga in the Bond film and, in a rare departure from cinematic wickedness, gave life to the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes in a couple of movies.

Lee portrayed the power-hungry wizard Saruman in Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy in 2001, 2002 and 2003 and in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014).

As part of his late-career flourish, he also appeared in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011) and Tim Burton’s black comedy Dark Shadows (2012) with Johnny Depp.

According to movie industry website IMDB, Lee has a lead role in the as-yet unreleased Angels In Notting Hill and was to have appeared in The 11th, which has not yet gone into production.

He also had a lifelong interest in music and his single Jingle Hell in 2013 entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number 22, making him the oldest living artist to enter the charts.

Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was born on May 27, 1922 and took up acting on the suggestion of a cousin after serving in Britain’s Royal Air Force in World War Two.

He made his film debut in 1947, launching a career that eventually spanned more than 200 movies.

Lee was most closely associated with the role of Dracula, dispensing with the nobility Lugosi had given the role and adopting a more beastly, lustful bearing as he dispatched various buxom victims.

He played blood-sucking Dracula in movies including Dracula (1958), Dracula: Prince Of Darkness (1966), Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1968), Count Dracula (1970), Taste The Blood Of Dracula (1970), Scars Of Dracula (1970), Dracula AD 1972 (1972), The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (1973) and Dracula And Son” (1976).