As you've no doubt heard, acting legend Christopher Lee died on Sunday at the age of 93. With nearly 300 acting credits to his name and roles in some of the most famous franchises in movie history — from “Dracula” to James Bond to “Star Wars” to “Lord of the Rings” — he left an indelible footprint on cinema history and will sorely be missed for his elegance, charm, and formidable, multi-faceted talent.
To commemorate the passing of the prolific British thespian, below are 11 things you may not have known about this brilliant performer of stage and screen, culled from various interviews he's given over the years.
1. He only appeared in the last few Hammer “Dracula” movies out of a sense of obligation.
“This happened with the third film, and the fourth film, and the fifth film. I turned them all down. I said 'no.' And I got these terrible telephone calls from Hammer, saying 'what's this I hear about you saying you won't do this?' This happened three times, three films. I said 'no, I'm not gonna do it. I don't have to, I don't want to.' 'You've got to! You've got to! You have to! You must!' And I said, 'why?' And they said 'because we've already sold it to the Americans with you in the part! 'Which annoyed me a bit. And then, which I'll never forget: 'Think of the people you'll put out of work if you don't do it.' Well that's a dreadful thing to say to somebody. So I can truthfully say, the only reason I made three, four and five or whatever it was, was because all the crew were my friends, were like my family, and I wasn't gonna put them out of work.”
2. He named the 1998 film “Jinnah,” in which he played Pakistan founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, his most important movie and best performance.
“I know it's he best thing I've ever done, by a long, long way. It's a very good movie. It's a very good movie. And everybody in it is very good. And it is truthful too, historically accurate. …Everywhere it's been seen, it's had wonderful reviews as a pictures, and i must say the best reviews I have ever had in my life as an actor, but nobody will show it. They won't show it. The distributors will not show it at the moment. Because they're afraid. And up to a point — I say up to a point — one can understand that. …because this is the story of a Muslim leader, the people in the West who don't really understand and don't know about this history, they get worried, they get frightened, they think my god, if you put this picture on in the theater, maybe somebody will put a bomb there or set fire to the place…but for me, it's a great tragedy and for everybody who was connected with the film, because it is a very good picture. It is actually my best performance, no question.”
3. He named “The Wicker Man” his best film.
“I think the best film…was 'The Wicker Man.' It's a wonderful part for me, written by one of our greatest playwrights Anthony Shaffer.”
4. He has held a number of Guinness world records, including: Most screen credits for a living actor (reached in 2007), most onscreen sword fights, and oldest videogame voice actor (for his role in the Nintendo DS game “Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days”).
5. He suffered a permanent injury to his hand during while filming a sword fight with Errol Flynn in 1955's “The Dark Avenger.”
“Then it's Errol's turn to come in and do the closer shots. …we had these enormous swords…and they were very heavy and difficult to wield, but I was a lot younger then. And we had this terrific fight. And the first shot was okay, it was very short. Then there was one where he had to cut at my leg…well, he did that and the blade hit a table, and that was the result. A souvenir of Errol Flynn. Course it was after lunch.”
6. He was told that he was too tall and “foreign looking” to be an actor when he first started out.
“I have quite definitely proved a great many people wrong. …you ignore it, it simply isn't true. It doesn't annoy me. I think it's pathetic.”
7. He witnessed the last public execution by guillotine in France in 1939 (Eugène Weidmann on July 17)
“I did see the last public execution in France in 1939. It was because somebody took me, a friend of my family's. And I turned away at the crucial moment. But I shan't ever forget that.”
8. Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels, was his cousin. He later played the Bond villain Francisco Scaramanga in “The Man with the Golden Gun.”
“Ian Fleming was my cousin. There is a Scaramanga, I have met him, he is a Greek, and presumably — as he knew Ian Fleming — this is where Ian got the name. …The fact that I happen to have been a distant cousin of Ian Fleming did in fact have nothing to do with [me getting the part], because Ian's been dead for some years now, and he never lived alas to see me play a part that he had written. Although he many a time did say to me, I can't understand why you don't play in one of the Bond pictures.”
9. He spoke a number of different languages, including German (see below), French, Italian and Spanish
10. He was shocked to find out that he was completely cut from “Return of the King.”
“When the third film came on, I couldn't believe what I saw. Because I wasn't in it. And the scene is one of the most important scenes in the whole trilogy. Cause it's Saruman, the great mortal enemy, the most evil of them all, against the Fellowship. And I'm on top of the Tower of Orthanc at Isengard, looking down at the Fellowship, and saying very nasty things to them. …A long sequence. Final confrontation between the Fellowship and their greatest enemy, and it wasn't in the film. Nobody could understand this. There were millions of hits on the internet — not just from Tolkien fans and the film fans, but everybody who had seen the first two. Cause they said, 'what happened to Saruman?' 'Buy the extended DVD.'”
11. He released two albums of “symphonic metal,” both named after his actual ancestor Charlegmane
Here's the incredible music video for “The Bloody Verdict of Verden”:
R.I.P., Sir Lee.