The news of Sir Christopher Lee’s death flooding my Twitter feed this morning put a big smile on my face. Not because I’m a terrible person, but because it was heartening to see just how many people still felt a connection to the man’s work. More and more it feels like our little corner of the internet is giving way to a generation that seems increasingly disinterested in 20th century cinema, a crowd whose think pieces seem relegated to post-1993 film. To see the online world united in their admiration and grief over a 93-year-old man - well, I can’t think of a more illustrative example of the impact Mr. Lee made on a world he seemed to take by the throat and make his own.
Lee’s life was remarkable before he ever stepped onto a film set. The son of a Lieutenant-Colonel of the King's Royal Rifle Corps and an Italian-English contessa, he volunteered to fight in World War II at age 17, first with the Finnish Army and later as a member of RAF intelligence, hunting Nazi war criminals and carrying out classified operations with the Special Operations Executive, a precursor to the SAS that was also known as “The Ministry Of Ungentlemanly Warfare.” His service record during World War II is astonishingly prolific, and when he left the service he was 24 years old. THEN he decided to try acting.
You don’t need us to recount all his accomplishments here, but Wikipedia says Lee's got 206 films on his CV. He played Dracula (ten or eleven times), Frankenstein’s Monster AND The Mummy. He essayed both Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes. Franchises? How about Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, James Bond, Gremlins, The Howling and Police Academy? That’s gotta be some kind of record. In between those benchmarks, Lee appeared in everything from Hollywood epics to no-budget quickies, working with directors ranging from Billy Wilder to Martin Scorsese to Jess Franco.
But if Lee’s massive filmography makes you feel like an underachiever, let’s add that he also started a music career in earnest at age 84, putting out a handful of well-received heavy metal EPs and albums over the course of his final decade.
And he was a knight.
Celebrate Sir Christopher Lee’s life this week - pop in the Blu-rays, rock out to his metal, pass around memes about how he’s more badass than Chuck Norris. But also consider what a humbling example he’s set in the entirety and scope of his life. There are worse people to carry in your pocket as an example to go out and DO something, to go out and LIVE, and to make that life something worth celebrating. He sure as hell did.