British actor Christopher Lee, known for portraying the immortal bloodsucker Dracula, among other villains on the silver screen, has died at the age of 93, his wife confirmed Thursday.
Birgit Kroencke, Lee’s wife of 50 years, said he died at a London hospital Sunday morning, The Guardian reported. Lee was admitted to the Westminster Hospital three weeks earlier for respiratory problems. Kroencke said she delayed the news of Lee’s death until family and friends were all notified first.
Born in the Belgravia district of London in 1922 to an aristocratic family, Lee’s breakout role wasn’t until he was 35, playing the reanimated creature in the 1957 horror movie “The Curse of Frankenstein.”
Watch the 1958 “Horror of Dracula” movie trailer.
Lee’s 6-foot-5-inch height helped him look the part in the Hammer horror studio’s nightmarish creations. He went on to play “The Mummy” and was then immortalized as the Gothic horror icon in 1958’s “Dracula,” a role he continued throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Lee’s association with the vampire followed the actor throughout his career.
Over six decades, the veteran actor played a who’s who of film adversaries. Lee played assassin Francisco Scaramanga opposite Roger Moore’s James Bond in “The Man With the Golden Gun.” With a horror movie background, Lee easily tapped into his dark side as Sith lord Count Dooku in two of the “Star Wars” prequels. He donned a shock white wig in “The Lord of the Rings” films to play the treacherous wizard Saruman. And Lee’s favorite role was playing Lord Summerisle, the leader of a pagan cult, in 1973’s “The Wicker Man.”
His overbearing portrayal of dentist and father in Tim Burton’s “Willy Wonka” remake had a velveteen way of saying “chocolate.”
Beginning in the 1990s, the actor, armed with a commanding baritone, released heavy metal albums as Charlemagne, including 2012’s “A Very Metal Christmas.” He had long maintained his lineage to the first Holy Roman Emperor. And in a very un-metal move, he also recorded an album of Broadway tunes.
Video of tunes by Charlemagne Productions
After appearing is nearly 250 movie and television roles, Lee was knighted in 2009 for services to drama and charity. In 2011, Lee was awarded the BAFTA fellowship, a lifetime achievement award that recognizes outstanding British artists.
“I never looked on these people, imaginary or not, I never really looked on them as evil and frightening, which they, of course, were in many cases,” Lee said, when asked about embodying so many different monster roles. “I always felt rather sorry for them, that they didn’t want to be that way.”