Friday, June 12, 2015

Sir Christopher Lee, Prince of Darkness and Light

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Christopher Lee, the most iconic villain in cinema history, died at the age of 93.

Christopher Lee was a British actor, born in May 1922. He “became an actor almost by accident. Through birth and education he seemed a more likely candidate for the diplomatic ladder”, writes the Guardian.

“Without previous aspirations or natural talent for acting, except a pleasing dark baritone voice that he exercised in song at home and abroad every day of his life, he was pushed towards film by one of his influential Italian relatives, Nicolò Carandini, then president of the Alitalia airline, who backed the suggestion with a chat to the Italian head of Two Cities Films, Filippo del Giudice. Lee was put on a seven-year contract by the Rank entertainment group, with the executive who signed it saying: “Why is Filippo wasting my time with a man who is too tall to be an actor?”

For over ten years, Lee mostly played supporting characters. “I was around a long time – nearly ten years. He once said. Initially, I was told I was too tall to be an actor. That's a quite fatuous remark to make. It's like saying you're too short to play the piano. I thought, "Right, I'll show you..." At the beginning I didn't know anything about the technique of working in front of a camera, but during those ten years, I did the one thing that's so vitally important today – I watched, I listened and I learned.”

He reached international fame in his forties, after he started working with British production company Hammer Films – collaboration that lasted for over two decades.

In a career spanning more than 250 films in nearly 70 years, Lee portrayed almost every iconic screen-villain there is: from Dracula, Mister Hyde, Fu Manchu, Rasputin, Frankenstein’s creature, the Mummy, to James Bond’s nemesis Francisco Scaramanga, Wicker Man’s Lord Summerisle, Star Wars’ Count Dooku and Lord of the Rings’ Saruman.

According to french weekly Marianne, Lee spoke fluent French, Italian, Spanish, German, Swedish, and Russian. He was decorated for his bravery during WWII by four different countries: Czech Republic, Poland, Yugoslavia and Great Britain. He was a cousin to Ian Fleming, James Bond creator, with whom he used to play golf. Scaramanga – the character Lee played in The Man With the Golden Gun – was actually the name of a guy Fleming used to hate!

One night, when he was a child, his mother woke him up to introduce him to “foreign guests” who turned out to be the men who killed Rasputin, a character he’ll later play in Rasputin, the mad monk.

As a young man, he met Lord of the Rings author J.R.R Tolkien in a pub, not knowing that many years later he'll portray the evil wizard Saruman on the big screen.

One of the lesser-known facts about Lee’s formidable life is astonishing to say the least: he was also a Heavy Metal performer! In 2010, he released a symphonic metal album Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross. Three years later, he “took things to a new level of confidence and power with the heavier, more majestic Charlemagne: The Omens of Death”, writes Rolling Stone.

"I have a great belief that things, no matter what they are – music, literature, anything in life – should from time to time surprise people and that's what I believe in: surprising people," he said in an interview with Metal Hammer.

Actual descendent of emperor Charlemagne – "He was, in fact, my ancestor and we can prove it," he told an audience at a speech in University College in Dublin – Lee was knighted in 2009.

Sir Christopher Lee brought elegance to evil and enchantment to our lives. “He was the last of his kind - a true legend - who I’m fortunate to have called a friend. He will continue to inspire me and I’m sure countless others for generations to come.” said director Tim Burton.

A true legend indeed.

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