'Dracula,' 'Lord of the Rings' Actor Christopher Lee Dies
Christopher Lee, the prolific actor who terrified audiences as Dracula, as the Frankenstein monster, and as Saruman in "Lord of the Rings," died Sunday at the age of 93.

The Guardian reported that Lee passed away after being admitted to a London hospital for respiratory problems and heart failure. His wife of over 50 years, Gitte Kroencke, released the news days later in order to inform family members first.

Lee was born May 27, 1922. As a young man, he served in the Royal Air Force as an intelligence officer during World War II. After the war, he turned to acting on the advice of his cousin (the Italian ambassador to Britain). For years, Lee had bit roles in dozens of films by legendary directors like Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and John Huston.

He got his big break in 1957 when he played the monster in "The Curse of Frankenstein." That led to the titular role in 1958's "Dracula." Lee continued to star as the vampire in several more movies, and became a horror movie fixture.DraculaLee moved away from the genre in the '70s, but was still a favorite to play villains. His step-cousin, Ian Fleming, was the author of the James Bond books, and wanted Lee to play Dr. No (alas, Joseph Wiseman had already been cast). Instead, Lee was tapped as Francisco Scaramanga in "The Man With the Golden Gun."

In the 2000s, Lee experienced a career renaissance, again as a villain — as evil wizard Saruman in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and as the nefarious Sith lord Count Dooku in the "Star Wars" prequels. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2009 in recognition of his long, impressive career. All told, Lee racked up some 275 credits on IMDB.

In addition to his acting work, Lee also released several heavy metal albums. His 2013 Christmas single "Jingle Hell" entered the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 22, making him the oldest living artist ever to enter the charts. "At my age, the most important thing for me is to keep active by doing things that I truly enjoy," he said of his music last year. "I do not know how long I am going to be around, so every day is a celebration and I want to share it with my fans."

Lee is survived by his wife, the Danish model/painter Birgit "Gitte" Kroencke, whom he married in 1961, and their daughter, Christina.
categories Movies