(c) British Lion
Alas, a moment that I’ve dreaded has finally arrived. The name of Sir Christopher Lee – who was just about my most favourite actor on the planet – is currently trending on Twitter because it was recently disclosed that the mighty actor has passed away. He died in hospital last Sunday after developing respiratory problems, but his death wasn’t announced publicly until today, after his family members had all been informed.
My many reasons for liking him included his productivity, versatility and venerability. By the time he turned 90, which was three years ago, he’d made about 275 films and I’m sure he’d added a few more to that total (including the recent, high-profile third Hobbit movie) between then and now. He was also Britain’s most linguistic actor – he spoke German, French, Italian and Spanish and also knew a bit of Swedish, Russian and Greek, and it wasn’t uncommon for him to assist in the dubbing of some of his English-language movies for foreign markets.
And he was surely Britain’s most literary actor too, because his massive film and television CV contained adaptations of stories by Lewis Carroll, Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Roald Dahl, Alexandre Dumas, Ian Fleming, Rider Haggard, Washington Irving, M.R. James, H.P. Lovecraft, Mervyn Peake, Edgar Allan Poe, Sax Rohmer, Sir Walter Scott, Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, Bram Stoker, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jules Verne and Dennis Wheatley.
And he seemed to have been around forever. He was making films back in the 1940s and if he hadn’t been legendary for anything else, he would have been on the strength of the mind-boggling fact that he was the only actor in history to have conducted sword fights with Errol Flynn and Yoda. (Lee had a light-saber duel with George Lucas’s sentence-mangling space-muppet in 2002’s Attack of the Clones.)
In recent years, he popped up in movies made by the likes of Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton and Peter Jackson, all of whom, as nippers, had watched him avidly in the old Hammer horror movies that he made with Peter Cushing. And he also – I love this – carved out a new career for himself by lending his distinctive voice to symphonic and concept heavy metal albums recorded with bands like Manowar and Rhapsody of Fire. I can’t think of a cooler hobby to take up when you’re in your late eighties.
And of course, he was Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man (1974), a member of the landed gentry who was not adverse to burning the odd virginal Free Presbyterian policeman as a sacrifice to the pagan gods, in return for a decent harvest on his island estate. Yes, this man was truly magnificent.
One of the sweetest comments I’ve seen on Twitter since the announcement of his passing was by someone who speculated that his dear old friend and Hammer colleague Peter Cushing might be waiting to greet him outside the pearly gates. Yes, I can just imagine Cushing’s clipped, gentlemanly tones echoing what he said at the beginning of the 1972 Spanish-British horror movie Horror Express, when his character bumped into Lee’s character on a railway-station platform. “Well, well, well… Look who’s here!”
(c) Granada Films