Christopher Lee began his acting career at the end of World War II and continued his work for over 60 years. The British icon is best known for his roles as Dracula in the 1958 Hammer horror film, the evil Count Dooku in "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones" and "Revenge of the Sith," and Saruman in "Lord of the Rings," among countless others.
During World War II, Mr. Lee served in the Royal Air Force and the Special Forces. He was reluctant to reveal the full details in a 2011 interview with the Telegraph, but said, unsurprisingly, that his foray into the horror film industry was inconsequential in comparison to the real horror he witnessed in war.
"When the Second World War finished, I was 23 and already I had seen enough horror to last me a lifetime. I’d seen dreadful, dreadful things, without saying a word. So seeing horror depicted on film doesn't affect me much.”
Lee's six-foot, five-inch frame made him a formidable figure, ideal for horror films.
Although Lee has expressed his dissatisfaction with his horror film career in recent years – especially hoping that his entire acting career would not be defined by his horror work – it is nonetheless an important part of his rise to fame.
In 1957, he began his work with UK studio Hammer Horror. He starred in "The Curse of Frankenstein" as the Creature, opposite Peter Cushing as Dr. Frankenstein the same year.
But Lee's most recognized work with Hammer was in his role as Count Dracula in the 1958 film succinctly titled "Dracula." The movie was so popular that it quickly proliferated into multiple films released over a span of nearly two decades.
The 1958 film was Hammer's first movie released in color. Combine that with a large amount of blood and you've got yourself a blockbuster. The Guardian also notes the "dark, brooding sexuality of Dracula" that Lee brought out, "something that his predecessor Bela Lugosi had never managed."
And yet, Lee soon tired of what he viewed as relentless typecasting. After portraying the James Bond villain Scaramanga in "The Man With The Golden Gun," he decided to pursue the American film industry in hopes of reinventing his acting career.
Already well-known for his work, Lee surprised everyone when he was cast in both the wildly popular Star Wars franchise and the Lord of the Rings trilogy in his 80s.
In 2013, Lee told Vanity Fair that he had no interest in retiring.
“I always ask myself, ‘Well, what else could I do?' Making films has never just been a job to me. It is my life. 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.”
Lee proved this with the release of his own album in 2010 titled Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross. It was well-received by the heavy metal community and won an award at the Metal Hammer Golden Gods ceremony.