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Remembering Sir Christopher Lee

Remembering Sir Christopher Lee

ap100305034496_custom-b330284c7041b8e35a2bba302c2fa745ec85984e-s900-c85Christopher Frank Carandini Lee — May 27, 1922 – June 7, 2015

Recently Star Wars fans were saddened to learn of the death of Sir Christopher Lee. He became an integral part of the Saga when he embodied Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

Because of who he was — not solely within the world of Star Wars, but the world as a whole — it’s appropriate to take time to recognize what this great man accomplished in his lifetime.

Few can boast of a life and career as varied, remarkable, and long-lived as the one Christopher Lee carved out for himself. He was a towering presence, both in his physical stature and his graciousness.

Lee was born in London on May 27, 1922. Through his mother, an Italian Contessa named Estelle Marie Carandini di Sarzano, he was a descendent of Charlemagne. His father was Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Trollope Lee. After his parents divorced when he was six, his mother married Harcourt George St. Croix Rose, a banker. Lee had an older sister, Xandra (1917–2002).

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Lee was a cousin — through his stepfather — of James Bond creator Ian Fleming. Of course, one of Lee’s classic roles was Bond villain Francisco Scaramanga in The Man With the Golden Gun (1974). He was also distantly related to Confederate general Robert E. Lee and astronomer John Lee.

 Christopher Lee during WWII

Christopher Lee during WWII

His military career was distinguished by service in the Royal Air Force (although unable to fly due to a failed optic nerve), and as an intelligence officer during World War II.

Of his time during the war, he said:

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.

He served in the Long Range Desert Patrol and the Special Operations Executive (which became the Special Air Service). He participated in secret missions that he was never able to discuss in detail:

I was attached to the SAS from time to time but we are forbidden – former, present, or future – to discuss any specific operations. Let’s just say I was in Special Forces and leave it at that. People can read in to that what they like.

After the war, Lee continued his service with the Central Registry of War Criminals and Security Suspects, an organization tasked with tracking down Nazis.

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In 1960, Lee married his wife, Danish painter and model Birgit “Gitte” Krøncke. Together they had one child, Christina Erika Carandini Lee, in 1963.Christopher Lee with his family in Belgravia, London, 1970. Photo by Frank Habicht.

Not wanting to return to an office job he held prior to WWII, Lee was talked into trying his hand at acting by his cousin, Nicolò Carandini, the Italian ambassador to Britain.

Lee liked the idea, and the rest is history.

house-of-long-shadows-2He was friends with two film legends; Peter Cushing — an actor with his own Star Wars legacy as Grand Moff Tarkin — and Vincent Price.

In the video below, Lee recounts his friendship with both men, and how much they were missed.

One of Lee’s most famous starring roles alongside his friend Peter Cushing was the 1958 Hammer film, Horror of Dracula.

His most famous contemporary roles were in The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.

8-christopher_lee_theredlistLee, who was acquainted with J.R.R. Tolkien (in fact, he was Tolkien’s choice to play Gandalf in any film adaptations), played Saruman in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, as well as in The Hobbit films, An Unexpected Journey and The Battle of the Five Armies.

In Star Wars, Lee brought Separatist Leader (and Sith Lord) Count Dooku to life in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

Prior to filming AOTC, Lee told StarWars.com:

It will be more than another part. It will be another ‘arrow in my quiver.’ I’m looking forward to it enormously.

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He returned as Count Dooku in the animated film, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, in 2008.

According to Guinness World Records, Lee was something of a record-setter:

• In 2007 he set the record for Most screen credits for a living actor after having appeared in 244 films and made-for-TV movies. (He went on to add 20+)

• He also holds the record for the Tallest leading actor — at 6’ 5” — a title now shared with actor Vince Vaughn.

• He also holds the record for Most films with a swordfight by an actor with a total of 17.

• In 2004 he contributed to a record for First spoken dialogue in an MMORPG after lending his voice to the game Everquest II.

• In 2009 he set the record for Oldest videogame voice actor as Diz/Ansem the Wise in Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days.

• In 2008, he set another record as Most connected actor living after the University of Virginia mapped the working relationship between 1,250,000 actors and actresses listed on IMDb and declared Lee “the center of the Hollywood universe.”

He was also the recipient of many distinguished honors during his lifetime, including:

• The Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement (1994)

Commander of the Venerable Order of Saint John (1997)

Commander of the Order of the British Empire — For services to Drama. (2001)

Knight Bachelor — For services to Drama and to Charity. (2009)

• Bram Stoker Gold Medal by the Trinity College Philosophical Society (2011)

• Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters. (France – 2011)

• British Academy of Film and Television Arts Fellowship (2011)

BFI Fellowship (2013)

Following his death, George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy, and Peter Jackson paid tribute to his life.

Christopher was a great British actor of the old school. AEP3_IA_55528_R true link to cinema’s past and a real gentleman. We will miss him. — George Lucas

Christopher brought a grace and gravitas to the many roles he’s played over a rich and expansive career. His performance as Count Dooku in Episodes II and III remains a highlight of the Star Wars saga, and we have been so privileged and honored to count him among our family. Christopher was a gentle soul and deeply adored by fans, and we will miss him dearly. — Kathleen Kennedy

Christopher spoke seven languages; he was in every sense, a man of the world; well versed in art, politics, literature, history and science. He was a scholar, a singer, an 10523499_10153256081751558_6875661483060180087_nextraordinary raconteur and of course, a marvelous actor. One of my favourite things to do whenever I came to London would be to visit with Christopher and Gitte where he would regale me for hours with stories about his extraordinary life. I loved to listen to them and he loved to tell them – they were made all the more compelling because they were true… There will never be another Christopher Lee. He has a unique place in the history of cinema and in the hearts of millions of fans around the world. The world will be a lesser place without him in it. — Peter Jackson

Later in life, Lee developed a love for “symphonic metal.” Here he discusses his music and his familial ties to Charlemagne:

Finally, a single from his album, Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross:

Sir Christopher Lee… Requiescat in pace.

(Aug. 6, 2013 - Source: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images Europe)

(Aug. 6, 2013 – Source: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images Europe)

Sources: Charlemagne Productions, StarWars.com, Wikipedia, IMDb, JediNews, badassoftheweek.com, Peter Jackson, Guinness World Records

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