To Sir (Christopher), With Love

On June 7th the movie industry, and the world in general, lost a legend: Sir Christopher Lee. So many people have already spoken up to eulogize him that saying more might seem superfluous, but the man was so fantastic that to encapsulate him would take nearly the entirety of the world wide web.

Christopher Lee had an astoundingly long and prolific career, holding a world record for the amount of films he’s been in. He began acting in 1946 and has worked steadily since, playing some of the most notable characters in cinema history: Count Dooku from Star Wars, Saruman from Lord of the Rings, Frankenstein’s monster, Count Dracula, the Mummy, Mephistopholes, Grigori Rasputin, Lord Summerisle from the Wicker Man, Fu Manchu, Sherlock Holmes, Rochefort, Bond villain Scaramanga, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Rameses I, and Death himself.

His life off screen was just as interesting. To get a glimpse of some of the amazing facts about him check out this article from io9. With thanks to Rob Bricken, some highlights include:

– “During World War II, Lee joined the Royal Air Force but wasn’t allowed to fly because of a problem with his optic nerve. So he became an intelligence officer for the Long Range Desert Patrol, a forerunner of the SAS, Britain’s special forces. He fought the Nazis in North Africa, often having up to five missions a day. During this time he helped retake Sicily, prevented a mutiny among his troops, contracted malaria six times in a single year and climbed Mount Vesuvius three days before it erupted.”

– “At some point during the war he moved from the LRDP to Winston Churchill’s even more elite Special Operations Executive, whose missions are literally still classified, but involved “conducting espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe against the Axis powers.” The SOE was more informally called — and I can’t believe this somehow hasn’t been made into a movie yet — The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.”

– “He was made a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2009, a Commander of the Venerable Order of Saint John in 1997, made a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government in 2011, earned he British Academy of Film and Television Arts Fellowship in 2011, received the The Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1994, and so many more.”

– “He’s always been a big metal fan, but he released his first full heavy metal album in 2010 at the age of 88. Titled Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross, which won the “Spirit of Metal” award from the 2010 Metal Hammer Golden Gods ceremony. He made a metal Christmas album in 2012. He was the oldest metal performer, and the oldest musician to ever hit the Billboard music charts.”

In the end, I think his friend and collaborator Peter Jackson sums up the man’s life far better than I ever could, so I will finished with his words…

“It is with tremendous sadness that I learnt of the passing of Sir Christopher Lee. He was 93 years old, had not been in his usual good health for some time, but his spirit remained, as always, indomitable.

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 scholar, a singer, an extraordinary 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 – stories from his time with the SAS, through the Second World War, to the Hammer Horror years and later, his work with Tim Burton – of which he was enormously proud.

I was lucky enough to work with Chris on five films all told and it never ceased to be a thrill to see him on set. I remember him saying on my 40th Birthday (he was 80 at the time), “You’re half the man I am”. Being half the man Christopher Lee is, is more than I could ever hope for. He was a true gentleman, in an era that no longer values gentleman.

I grew up loving Christopher Lee movies. For most of my life I was enthralled by the great iconic roles he not only created – but continued to own decades later. But somewhere along the way Christopher Lee suddenly, and magically, dissolved away and he became my friend, Chris. And I loved Chris even more.

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.

Keith Cunningham
Keith is a freelance writer at Black Powder Design and a graduate of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania with a degree in animation. Keith hosts a podcast on the Deliberate Noise Network titled The Keith Show Show starring Keith. He is also the illustrator and writer of his own comic series called Stale Popcorn.