|"I've seen many men die right in front of me - so many in fact that I've become almost hardened to it. Having seen the worst that human beings can do to each other, the results of torture, mutilation and seeing someone blown to pieces by a bomb, you develop a kind of shell. But you had to. You had to. Otherwise we would never have won."|
-Christopher Lee, discussing his service in World War II
For me, Halloween has always been about two things – choking down so much goddamned candy that my intestines harden into a supersaturated congealed sugar sausage, and hanging out on the couch with a pretty girl and a bag of fun-sized Mega Caramel Deluxe Choco-Bomb Diabetes Bars watching Dracula movies and waiting/praying for the opportunity to run outside and blast the punk kids in my neighborhood in the face with either a fire hose or an Airsoft rifle. I may be alone in this, seeing as how for some inexplicable reason apparently nobody else on the planet seems to be even a little bit burned out on goddamned zombies yet (yes, I got really into them from 2004, when I saw the remake of Dawn of the Dead, but the zombie genre peaked with World War Z in 2006 and I haven't given a shit about them since), but for me it just does not get any better than the original gangsta of flesh-ripping, babeage-macking vampires running around in a crypt being creepy as fuck and spraying around more carotid arterial blood spray than Maximilien Robespierre with a gas-powered chainsaw and supreme uncontested judicial power over the Revolutionary Tribunal (am I right here, all you 18th-century French Revolution buffs? Hello? This thing on?).
And, to that end, Christopher Frank Carandini Mothafuckin' Lee WAS Dracula. He played the bloodsucking impaling-happy non-sparkling Wallachian Count in the most perfect Dracula movie ever made, Horror of Dracula, then reprised the role in seven sequels over the next 15 years – giving an entire generation of humanity nightmares for life, coating himself in a swimming pool's worth of fake movie blood, and somehow managing to constantly surround himself with ridiculous concentrations of hot babes with twin puncture wounds on the sides of their necks and borderline-pornographic amounts of blood-stained cleavage.
He's also a 6'5" tall world champion fencer, speaks six languages, does all of his own stunts, has participated in more on-screen sword fights than any actor in history, served for five years defending democracy from global fascism as a British Commando blowing the shit out of Nazi asses in World War II, and became the oldest person to ever record lead vocals on a heavy metal track when, at the age of 88, he wrote, performed on, and released a progressive symphonic power metal EP about the life of Charlemagne (because why the fuck not?).
The most prolific actor in motion picture history, Christopher Lee was born somewhere in England in 1922. His mother was an Italian Countess who was actually descended from the line of Charlemagne, and she was so important that she was allowed to wear the royal seal of Frederich Barbarossa and so MILF-y she had her portrait painted by something like a half-dozen famous Italian artists. One of Lee's ancestors on that side was the Papal Secretary of State who refused to attend the coronation of Napoleon and is buried in the Pantheon in Rome next to Raphael (the painter not the ninja turtle), which seems like kind of a big deal. Lee's father, meanwhile, was a distant relative of Robert E. Lee and was multi-decorated war hero who'd served as a Colonel in the 60th King's Royal Rifle Corps during World War I and the Boer War. Growing up, Lee studied Classics at Wellington College, where he was also a champion squash player, a ridiculously-badass fencer, and spent his spare time playing on the school hockey and rugby. After college, Lee took a bullshit job working as an office clerk (that's a Classics major for you), where his pay was one pound a week – and by one pound a week I think it means his entire compensation for busting his ass 8 hours a day was that every Friday around 4:30 a really cool guy would walk by, fist bump him, and say something like, "Hey, nice job man! Hang in there bro!"
Shit got real in 1939 when Christopher Lee quit his day job, caught a boat to Finland, and decided to enlist in the Finnish Army to help them fight off the Soviet invasion of Finland. Lee got geared up to kick some commie asses up and down the frozen wastes of mid-Winter Finland, but didn't see much action, returning home in 1940 to deal with a much bigger and more England-centric problem: Nazis.
Christopher Lee enlisted in the Royal Air Force in 1940, where he worked as an intelligence officer specializing in cracking German ciphers and skulls and any other Nazi bullshit he came in contact with. In North Africa he was attached to the Long Range Desert Patrol, the forerunner of the SAS, where he would jump in a badass fucking four-wheel-drive jeep with a gigantic machine gun mounted in the back, drive hundreds of miles behind enemy lines, survive the scorching heat of the Sahara Desert, then sneak-attack Luftwaffe airfields by rolling up on them at sixty miles an hour with his .50-caliber machine guns blazing out curtains of white-hot Nazi-smiting justice, planting dynamite on their airplanes, then peeling ass out of there leaving nothing but bullet-riddled corpses and gigantic explosions in his wake. After working with the LRDP, Lee was assigned to the Special Operations Executive – better known as Winston Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare – a group that did shit like lead a twelve-man assault that destroyed the German top secret nuclear weapons development facility in Norway and assist brave Eastern European partisans and rebels sabotage Nazi supply lines to prevent them from bringing reinforcements up to fight the Soviets. His service records are sealed and Lee doesn't talk much about his service (when pressed on the subject, he reportedly asks his interviewer, "Can you keep a secret?". When they excitedly say yes, he leans in close and says, "So can I."), but we do know that by the time he retired as a Flight Lieutenant in 1945 he'd been personally decorated for battlefield bravery by the Czech, Yugoslavian, English, and Polish governments and was good friends with Josip Broz Tito, so draw your own conclusions.
A Nazi train derailed by partisans in Yugoslavia.
The Long Range Desert Patrol.
Christopher Lee went into acting in 1948, before myself and roughly 95% of my readership was born, and persevered through a tough 10-year stretch of bit parts and minor roles. He finally got a big break in 1957, when he got paid $1,300 to play Frankenstein's Monster for Hammer Films – a part he easily earned if for no other reason than just because at six foot five he was – and still is! – the tallest actor in Hollywood. He took the Dracula role the next year, spent the next decade ingesting gallons of fake blood (probably preferable to wading through knee-deep piles of real-life dead Germans while Nazi tanks fire 88mm cannons and spray machine gun bullets at you), and his career kind of blew up from there.
In addition to his iconic, definitive role as Dracula, Christopher Lee has also portrayed some of the most memorable villains of all time. Sure, everyone knows him as Sauroman the White from Lord of the Hobbits: Return to Fellowship Towers and Darth Tyranus from those otherwise-terrible Star Wars prequels (which is notable in itself because Tyranus was supposed to have been Qui-Gon's mentor, and Liam Neeson, between being Zeus, Aslan, Hannibal, Qui-Gon, Ducard, Oskar Schindler, and your dad in Fallout 3 is basically the mentor character in every work of fiction since 1993), but for my money it doesn't get any better than when he played the ultimate Bond Villain in The Man with The Golden Gun -- a role he got thanks in no small part to the fact that Bond creator Ian Fleming was not only Lee's cousin, but the two men had fought together in the SOE during WWII. So Lee was basically part of the team that inspired James Bond, then he went on to play a fucking Bond Villain who lives on an island surrounded by hot babes and Tattoo from Fantasy Island, drives a car that turns into an airplane, uses renewable solar energy to try and destroy the world, and revolutionizes the badassitude of carrying pimped-out firearms. So Awesome.
I won't get too much into it, but Christopher Lee has basically been in every movie ever, from billion-dollar Academy Award winners to the sort of shit that Elvira pimps on Channel 875 at four in the morning on a Tuesday. He's almost always the villain, and as such has probably died on camera more times than anyone ever. He's been Fu Manchu five times. He was the definitive Count de Rochefort in a couple Three Musketeers movies. He's been The Mummy, Frankenstein's Monster, Willy Wonka's Dad, the Emperor of China, the Grim Reaper, Lucifer, Grigory Rasputin, Charles Marlow, Ramses, Tiresias the Blind Prophet of Thebes, Vlad the Impaler, one role where he's simply credited as "Ship's Vampire", and another where he's "Resurrection Joe." He's hosted SNL and been in Police Academy, the Last Unicorn, Charlie's Angels, Season of the Witch, Gremlins II, a Polish Tales from the Crypt-style TV series and a softcore porn based on the works of Marquis de Sade, but he was also in Lord of the Rings, Shaka Zulu, A Tale of Two Cities, The Wicker Man, Moby-Dick and the Hamlet with Lawrence Olivier. He's worked with Peter Cushing, Jimmy Stewart, Charlton Heston, Errol Flynn, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Spielberg, Orson Welles, Vincent Price, Christopher Walken, Sam Eliot, Jeff Bridges and Jayne Mansfield, but also Nicholas Cage, Heather Graham, Sacha Baron Cohen, Tom Arnold, Casper Van Dien and Armand Assante, and he once appeared in a movie called "Howling II: Werewolf Bitch" with the dude from Space Mutiny.
He's the only person to play both Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes (he was also Sir Henry Baskerville). His characters have executed both Charles the First of England and Louis the Sixteenth of France (and, as a badass side note, Lee is so into the idea of public executions that in real life he can recite every official executioner in England since the 15th century). He's portrayed Englishmen, Egyptians, Spaniards, Transylvanians, Frenchmen, Greeks, Poles, Chinese, Indians, Italians, Wallachians, Romans, Germans, Arabs, Gypsies, and Russians, played the lead role in the biography of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, speaks English, German, Russian, Swedish, Italian, and French, can do any English accent he wants, and sings everything from opera and death metal in a hardcore bass voice. IMDB credits him with 274 acting roles, Guiness says he's appeared in more films than anyone ever, and the Oracle of Bacon lists him as the Center of the Hollywood Universe because anyone in history links to him in 2.59 steps (he links to Bacon in 1). If that's not enough, Lee's movies have grossed more than any actor ever – his top five alone grossed $4.4B (number two is Harrison ford with $3B) and that doesn't even include the new Hobbit stuff and whatever the fuck else he's got in the works. He's such a veteran pro that he filmed every single scene in Star Wars 3 in a single day, and even though he's never received a Best Actor nomination he's been in 4 movies nominated for Best Picture and he can rest assured that even the shittiest movie of his career is probably a fuck of a lot more entertaining than The English Patient.
He's also developed something of a reputation for being a dick to fans and for having a seething contemptuous disdain for fajitas, which makes him even more badass in some ways.
"I gave you the chance of aiding me willingly but with these fajitas you have elected the way of pain."
Lee also belongs to three stuntman unions, does all of his own stunts, once busted his face smashing head-first through an actual plate glass window for a scene, injured himself falling into an open grave while portraying Dracula, and once had his hand slashed open during a drunken sword fight with Errol Flynn.
Oh, and while we're on the subject of swordfights, Lee has appeared in more on-screen sword duels than any other actor ever. A masterful fencer, he's been in everything from cutlass fights on the decks of waterlogged pirate ships to rapier duels in seventeenth-century France to taking on a couple guys one-third of his age with a lightsabers and a fistful of force lightning on the deck of whatever the fuck they called Imperial Star Destroyers in the prequel movies.
CHRISTOPHER LEE FUCKING LOVES THIS SHIT
A classically trained singer, Christopher Lee also released a heavy metal hardcore symphonic power metal concept album about Charlemagne when he was 88 years old. He's played with Rhapsody and Manowar, and on his 90th birthday he released a metal single called "Let Legend Mark Me as the King" with music written by some of the guys from Judas Priest.
No, I am not joking about this. I am actually streaming a track about Pepin the Short off his MySpace page as I type and it's actually pretty good.
"One should try anything he can in his career, except folkdance and incest."
Christopher Lee is also a master golfer who once played with Jack Nicklaus and is the only actor to be a member of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, the most prestigious country club in the world. He's been married to the same Danish supermodel for 44 years, is the Commander of the Order of St. John's of Jerusalem, a Knight Bachelor of the Order of the British Empire, and once received a medal from Mikael Gorbachev.
He's still acting at 90 years old.
|"When you're involved in a war it's the old saying 'if your name's written on the bullet, there's nothing you can do about it'. So you just banished it from your mind. Of course I was scared on some occasions and anyone who says they aren't scared during an operation probably isn't telling the truth. I know about six people who had no fear. Literally none. Whether that was due to a lack of imagination or because they'd conquered it, I don't know. In fact one was Iain Duncan Smith's father, who was one of my closest friends. But during a war, people are taught to kill and they have the blessings of the authorities to do so, so if it's your life or somebody else's, you want to be quite sure it's not yours."|
The 10 Greatest Christopher Lee Performances
Clark, Mark. Smirk, Sneer, and Scream. McFarland, 2004.
Guiley, Rosemary. The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves and Other Monsters. Infobase, 2004.
Paul, Louis. Tales from the Cult Film Trenches. McFarland, 2008.
Wright, Michael. What they Didn't Teach You About WWII. Random House, 2009.
The Complete List
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