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Kings of Horror

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(Above photo was taken by Terry O’Neill on the set of the 1983 horror comedy, House of the Long Shadows, the only film which co-starred four great master horror actors: Vincent Price, John Carradine, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee.)

Christopher Lee, the world’s most interesting man and the last king of horror, died aged 93. 

There was always something rakish about Christopher Lee. His movie career — and late life affectation for death metal — proves it. But Lee’s exciting adventures began when he volunteered to fight for Finland at the beginning of the Second World War. He was soon chosen for elite clandestine outfit called ‘Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’, more commonly known as Churchill’s Secret Service. His work there is still classified (though the ministry was involved in skirmishes such as an assault that destroyed the German top secret nuclear weapons development facility in Norway) but Lee came out of the war as a highly decorated veteran to live a second life as an acclaimed actor.

For Hammer Horror, a British studio which churned out series of thrillers which luxuriated in camp and melodramatic moments, he portrayed an array of accursed protagonists of Georgian and Victorian imaginations: the Mummy; Frankenstein’s monster; Count Dracula; Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; and Fu Manchu. He was cast as Henry Baskerville against Peter Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes, then as Holmes, and even as Holmes’ cerebral brother Mycroft.

Later, filmmakers remember him whenever they needed to portray men of apocalyptic air and larger-than-life ambitions, real or imagined. Thus he was Pakistan’s tormented founder in Jinnah; a debonair assassin with a third nipple against James Bond; an intergalactic aristocrat in Star Wars; a misguided holy fanatic in Rasputin, the Mad Monk; a powerful wizard corrupted by evil in Lord of The Rings; and an icy, pagan-worshiping leader of a windswept Celtic island in The Wicker Man.

His colorful life intertwined with those of whom he played. As a child, he met Rasputin’s killers. One of his stepcousins was Ian Fleming, who partly modeled James Bond on Lee’s wartime experiences and who hoped Lee would play titular villain in Dr. No. Lee also knew Tolkien, and was the sole member of The Lord of Rings’ cast and crew to have met its writer. In playing Saruman’s death, Lee quipped that he knew how dying from being stabbed in the back sounded like, from his classified work during WWII.

He maintained a productive, prolific life to the end: on his last day of filming Lord of The Rings, Lee was 92.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 12, 2015 at 3:38 am

9 Responses

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  1. Great post on a fascinating man.


    June 12, 2015 at 6:00 am

  2. A fitting tribute to a man was fuller than any of us mere mortals could hope to aspire to!


    June 12, 2015 at 7:58 am

    • Damned autocorrect! “A fitting tribute to a man whose life was fuller…” – sheesh!


      June 12, 2015 at 7:59 am

  3. I could be wrong but I’m almost certain it was Cushing in Star Wars (A New Hope), not Lee.


    June 12, 2015 at 1:44 pm

  4. Reblogged this on muhammadmarthtech.


    June 12, 2015 at 3:30 pm

  5. R I P my dear ,,,,

    janaka viraj weerasekara

    June 12, 2015 at 8:36 pm

  6. My childhood hero from old TV movies.


    June 14, 2015 at 5:24 am

  7. Thank you for this tribute to this magnificent artist and actor. Just yesterday I saw “Panico en el transiberiano” (the spanish version of Horror Express). RIP….

    Pura Ilusión

    July 1, 2015 at 6:18 pm

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