There are few faces or voices as instantly recognizable as that of British actor Christopher Lee. With amazing film credits, such as the Star Wars villain, Count Dooku, and Lord of the Rings baddie Sarumon, Lee appeared in over 200 films, which have grossed some of the highest amounts in Hollywood history. That said it's the unusual happenstance and bizarre coincidences of Lee's life that make the man more interesting than any of the characters he's portrayed.
While that might seem like a tall order, it's the truth!
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Fact #1: He Was in The British Special Forces.
Like many men of his age, Christopher Lee fought in the second World War. While he ostensibly joined and served in the British Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, he was actually a serving member of the newly minted Special Air Services. The newly-formed special forces had a single purpose: winning the war. This meant sneaking behind enemy lines, destroying supplies, sabotaging trains and vehicles, destroying weapons and property; in short, doing anything it took to make sure the Nazi war machine ground to a stuttering halt.
Still regarded as one of the deadliest special forces in the world today, Lee served from 1941 to 1946. This stint in the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare gained Lee a lot of unusual experiences that he brought to his performances on-screen. This includes everything from his very physical work as The Mummy, in one of Hammer's early movies, to knowing just what it sounds like when a man is stabbed in the back for his portrayal of the wizard Sarumon.
Don't take my word for that last one; its on the special features of the Lord of the Rings collection. Peter Jackson details the conversation where he found out some very unusual things about Sarumon's life experiences, and how it played into the death scene of the corrupted white wizard.
What sort of tunes would a British gentleman relax with at the end of the day? Perhaps something classical? You know, those songs from an era when composers drove orchestras to the brink of madness to create true beauty?
Brink of madness yes, classical not so much. One of Lee's most favorite bands is the symphonic metal group Rhapsody, and he has not been shy about endorsing them. He's even sung duets with the band in a variety of different languages. Lee's voice is good for more than making apocalyptic pronouncements, as he has recorded tunes varying from songs by Lord of the Rings character Treebeard, to appearances in songs by the American metal group Manowar. And, of course, he had his own band Charlemagne named after his great ancestor.
Also, speaking of Lee's ancestry, it came from a long line of badasses, as well.
Fact #3: He's Descended From Great Nobility.
We tend to think of him as Sir Christopher Lee, as well we should since he was knighted by the queen in 2009. However, what a lot of fans may not know is that he was Italian nobility on his mother's side since birth, a Contessa of the Italian Cardini family, according to Goliath. Lee's family lineage traces back to such infamous branches of nobility as the Borgias (though it is a very distant tracing in that case), as well as to the legendary King Charlemagne. There are even parts of that ancient ruler's crest that still appears in his modern descendant's coat-of-arms.
Though Lee's father was not noble born, he was a decorated soldier, as well as an actor and performer of some note. It seems like Lee took the best of both sides of his lineage, and became something truly impressive with those ingredients.
Fact #4: He Would Have Destroyed You in a Sword Fight.
While his time in the trenches of the second World War made him deadly with both traditional and non-traditional firearms, as well as a skilled knife fighter, Christopher Lee had also mastered fencing and swordplay during his life.
Just in case you felt like you weren't accomplishing enough with your weekend.
Lee had more on-screen sword fights than any other actor in film, and he was even injured while fighting famous film swashbuckler Errol Flynn (Flynn was drunk when the incident happened, which is much like saying Flynn was breathing at the time). It wasn't until his fight scenes as Count Dooku in the Star Wars franchise that Lee actually used a double for fight scenes, though, heaving a sigh when he realized it was a young man's game he was finally too old for, in his 70s.
It took more decades than most people have on this Earth to pry a blade out of Christopher Lee's hands, and that is something worth noting.
Fact #5: He Set The Villain Standard.
Perhaps most famous for his portrayal of Count Dracula in Hammer horror films (Lee played the vampire Count more than any other actor, with nine full performances complete before he left the role), Lee was built to play intimidating villains. With his imposing six and a half feet of height, his piercing gaze, and his voice, he tended to have far too much presence to be cast as a supporting actor, but he was also too much to be a leading man in most films.
That same presence, and raw physicality, made him an ideal choice for villains. He took on all sorts of creature features, ranging from the infamous vampire count, to the Mummy, the Frankenstein Monster, Fu Manchu, and the man with the golden gun before finally moving on to more fantastic villains such as the aforementioned Sith Lord and evil wizard. While he didn't play exclusively villains, they are the roles that shaped his career, and which he's known for... even when it's only his voice is in the feature, as with the evil king in The Last Unicorn.
Bonus Fact (Because There Are Just Too Many Good Ones to Fit in a Top 5 List): Lee Was Tight With A Lot of Big Names.
No one starts out at the top of the game, excluding people who happen to join multi-generational cults or secret societies. However, thanks to the same accidents of birth that made Christopher Lee nearly six-and-a-half feet tall in the days before color film, he found himself on a first name basis with a variety of legendary names. As a quick for instance, people listened when Lee talks about Lord of the Rings not just because he's a huge fan (both literally and metaphorically), but because he was the only member of the cast who ever met and talked with J.R.R. Tolkein without the aid of a seance.
That's just a single example. Lee was also distantly related to, and played golf with, James Bond author Ian Fleming. Fleming served in naval intelligence during the second World War, giving him and his distant cousin one more thing to bond over (no pun intended). Lee and his wife also became friends with Boris Karloff, not through the movies, but because they happened to live next door to one another on a pure fluke. The list gets longer, but when a man liked to work as much as Christopher Lee did he tended to get around.
This trend didn't stop as he got older, either. He just met new people, and expanded his circles even wider. Particularly, given that he always tended to be on good terms with everyone in the cast... even the heroes he was playing opposite.