The disparate worlds of classic horror movie fans, fantasy geeks, Bond movie nerds, and heavy metal aficionados are in collective mourning today at the news that beloved screen icon Christopher Lee has died at the grand old age of 93. With his imposing height (as a young man of 6’5″ he was told he was too tall to be an actor) and deep, booming voice, Lee made his name portraying Count Dracula in a series of increasingly silly Hammer films, and if that was his only legacy, it would suffice. Lee played Dracula ten times before finally hanging up the fangs and cape. Other notable roles included Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (one of the best Bond villains in one of the worst Bond movies); Rasputin; and three different forays into the world of Sherlock Holmes- as Sir Henry in The Hound of the Baskervilles; Holmes himself; and his brother Mycroft. And then there was Lord Summerisle, the ruler of an isolated Scottish island still in thrall to paganism in the cult classic The Wicker Man, one of Lee’s favorite films (the role was written specifically for him by Anthony Shaffer).
His personal life is the stuff of legend. His mother was an Italian countess; his father a decorated soldier. Ian Fleming was a step-cousin. During World War II Lee served in the RAF and then the intelligence service, and afterwards hunted down Nazi war criminals. Whenever anyone questioned him about working as a spy, he would ask “Can you keep a secret?” People would of course respond yes. “So can I,” was his reply. But he did recount one spy story. During filming of Lord of the Rings, Lee told Peter Jackson that he had actually heard the sound a man makes when he is stabbed in the back. He also knew J.R.R. Tolkien personally and made it a tradition to reread the books every year. Oh, and of course, then there was his heavy metal – or “symphonic metal” as he termed it.