Sir Christopher Lee: Horror Fans Mourn A Legend And The End Of An Era

In an age when the terms “legend” and “icon” are bestowed carelessly on the undeserving, the world lost a true Hollywood icon in the form of Sir Christopher Lee, who passed away June 7 at the age of 93. Best known for his portrayals of Count Dracula among his record 278 acting credits, he boasted an enviable portfolio of characters, playing Frankenstein, The Mummy, Lucifer, Fu Manchu, a Bond villain, Rasputin, Mephistopheles, and Sherlock Holmes before reaching a younger generation of fans as the dark wizard Saruman in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies and Count Dooku in Star Wars.

While Lee himself would have bristled a bit at being defined as simply a horror legend, that certainly holds true for so many fans mourning his loss. Lee was one of three iconic horror actors of his generation who often worked together and who fans have dubbed the “Unholy Trinity” — Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price — with Lee being the last survivor, closing the casket forever on a golden age of horror when film studios such as Hammer and Amicus ruled the genre.

Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price.
The “Unholy Trinity” of horror: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. (Press kit photo for “The House of the Long Shadows.”)

On Facebook forums dedicated to Hammer Films, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Vincent Price, many mourned the passing of the last of the childhood icons who had inspired their lifelong love of the horror.

“While I knew this day would eventually come I was still not prepared for it. Christopher Lee helped define my childhood with his MANY varied performances in Hammer and beyond… RIP Christopher Lee – you are truly a legend now.” (Christopher Gullo)

“I can honestly say that this is one of the very few actors that have passed that I actually wept when I heard. I’ve never met nor knew the man. But I had many happy memories of watching his films from when I was a little to the age I am now. Its almost like a friend has left you.” (Janet Denny)

“Very sad news. I was mesmerised by his portrayal of Dracula as young boy and have been hooked on Hammer (and horror in general) ever since. A truly amazing acting career. RIP Sir Christopher.” (William Wade)

“These gentlemen have left such a void in Hollywood that can never and will never be filled. All we can do is hold on to the memories they have given us and pass them along to our children and grandchildren. Only then will the true magic of movies and Hollywood’s golden age live on because there just isn’t the caliber of talent today that these men had. They will always be remembered and sorely missed.” (Robb And Michelle Webb)

Lee was a horror legend, but he was so much more. He was a true gentleman and Renaissance man, equally adept with a sword or a golf club, and lending a regal gravity to all his roles with his 6′ 5″ towering frame and baritone voice.

Cinema For Peace Gala 2012 - Inside Ceremony
BERLIN, GERMANY – FEBRUARY 13: Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Christopher Lee attend the Cinema for Peace Gala ceremony at the Konzerthaus Am Gendarmenmarkt during day five of the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival on February 13, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for Cinema For Peace)

Sir Christopher Lee stumbled into acting after a career in the Royal Air Force during World War II, but was never allowed to fly due to visual problems with his optic nerve, according to io9. He officially became an “intelligence officer” for Britain’s special forces, where he was a Nazi hunter, before moving on to an even more elite special forces group named The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. With his extensive background in international affairs, Lee was fluent in a number of languages, including French, German, Italian, and Spanish, and proficient in Swedish, Russian and Greek.

While he may have been a spy in real life, he played the villain to the world’s most famous fictional spy in The Man with the Golden Gun, and was a step-cousin to James Bond author Ian Fleming. His bloodlines also connected to Emperor Charlemagne of the Holy Roman Empire, inspiring the title of his first symphonic heavy metal album, Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross. The album was released in 2010 when Lee was 87 years old. At 90, he released his follow up, Charlemagne: The Omens of Death, making him the oldest performer in heavy metal.

Christopher Lee was also known for performing most of his own stunts and was a world champion fencer and an opera singer. He met author J.R.R. Tolkien and the men who assassinated Rasputin. He earned the title “Sir” when he was named a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2009.

Which is to say, Sir Christopher Lee truly was “the most interesting man in the world.”

peter cushing ursula andress christopher lee
19th August 1964: Swiss film actress Ursula Andress with English actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing at a cocktail party in London. All are stars of the film ‘She’. (Photo by Kent Gavin/Keystone/Getty Images)

Christopher Lee reportedly refused to sign photos of himself as Dracula in his later years, but the one thing from his years with Hammer that lasted throughout his lifetime was his friendship and deep love for his partner on screen, Peter Cushing. Not only did the pair appear in multiple films together, but they formed a bond so strong that even after Cushing’s death in 1994, Lee continued referring to his friend and how much he missed him.

He also shared a lifelong friendship with another horror legend, Vincent Price, and spoke lovingly about him throughout his life, referring to him and Cushing in a documentary from 2001 titled The Many Faces of Christopher Lee, as shown in the video clip. He shared some screen time with Price, but the “Unholy Trinity” only appeared together as a trio in one film, The House of the Long Shadows.

There is one cheeky moment of the film that seems to have been an ad lib by Price. When Lee’s character insults Price’s, you can hear Vincent off-camera murmuring, “Bitch,” as Lee walks away. They surely had a good laugh over that one.

And speaking of laughs, there’s a great story that’s circulated for years about the friendship between Lee and Cushing. It’s said the two loved Warner Brothers cartoons, and were even kicked out of a movie theater once because of their raucous laughter. In particular, Lee and Cushing loved Yosemite Sam. They enjoyed impersonating the character, and in a poignant twist to the story, it’s said that when Cushing became so ill he was homebound before his death, Lee would call him on the phone and entertain him by doing Yosemite Sam impersonations.

Stop for moment and imagine these two great icons of horror giggling and laughing like school girls over a cartoon character. And imagine how difficult it must have been for Christopher Lee to maintain his composure knowing his greatest friend in the world was dying as he made him laugh over such a silly thing.

None of us know for sure if there is an afterlife till we pass on and find out firsthand. But if there is, you can rest assured that Vincent, Peter, and Sir Christopher are gathered around the fire drinking a nice brandy or cognac after a delicious gourmet meal cooked by Vincent from one of his many cookbooks. They’ve probably played a few rounds of chess, and by now they’re likely having their own film marathon, laughing about the good times and all the behind-the-scenes jokes on set.

Sir Christopher’s probably grimacing at those shots of Dracula with the bloodshot eyes he hated so much, while Vincent tells him to lighten up, and be glad he was loved by so many for that role. They’re probably reminiscing about all their beautiful costars over the years, and raising a glass to the likes of Caroline Munro, Barbara Shelley, Veronica Carlson, and Ingrid Pitt, as well as their wives who stayed loyal for so many years.

But most important of all, between all those legendary horror films, the intermissions are filled with Warner Brothers cartoons. Yosemite Sam, to be precise, in an endless supply. And no matter how loud and how long they laugh, this is one theater that will never kick them out.

Hollywood loves a good love story, and there are many tales of romantic couples on and off the silver screen. But some of the greatest love stories are platonic, and the love Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing shared for each other is perhaps one of the greatest Hollywood love stories ever.

You were the last of the horror legends and we will miss you, Sir Christopher, but we leave you in good hands — the very best of hands. Please give Peter and Vincent our kindest regards as we raise our glasses to all of you who inspired our great love of horror films, and showed us what it means to be true gentlemen of class and intellect, even as you terrified us during all those late nights in front of our TV sets.

It truly is the end of an era.

[Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images]