Christopher Lee, the prolific actor best known for playing some of the cinema’s biggest villains in a career that spanned more than 65 years, has died at the age of 93. His family had no comment on the death when contacted by EW. The Guardian reported Lee died on Sunday due to respiratory problems and heart failure.
Born in England in 1922, Lee served in the Royal Air Force during World War II as an intelligence officer. Tall and classically handsome with a deep, richly resonant voice, Lee quickly took to acting after the war, but he didn’t find his place in the film industry until he was cast as the monster in 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein. The project would begin a long and fruitful relationship for Lee with the U.K. company Hammer Film Productions, best known for its series of gothic horror movies. Indeed, in 1958, he was cast as the title vampire in Dracula, a role that would become practically synonymous with Lee’s face for horror fans. Lee would revisit the infamous blood-sucker in at least eight more movies over the next 20 years.
But Dracula was far from Lee’s only iconic character. The actor played Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Fu Manchu several times, as well as the rogue Rochefort in 1973’s The Three Musketeers and its 1974 sequel The Four Musketeers. He also portrayed the villain Francisco Scaramanga in the 1974 James Bond film The Man With the Golden Gun and the nefarious Lord Summerisle in the 1975 cult hit The Wicker Man.
“I haven’t spent my entire career playing the guy in the bad hat, although I have to say that the bad guy is frequently much more interesting than the good guy,” Lee said of his career.
Lee experienced a career renaissance in the 2000s thanks to key roles in two massive Hollywood trilogies: He played the wizard Saruman in The Lord of the Rings saga (and played the role again in Peter Jackson’s Rings prequel trilogy, The Hobbit), and the Sith lord Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels. In 2009, Lee received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II. At the time, the actor noted, “To be a legend, you’ve either got to be dead, or excessively old.”
Lee’s last major onscreen appearance came in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. He was cast alongside Uma Thurman in the forthcoming The 11th, but that film is not scheduled for release until next year. In his later years, he also expressed an interest in heavy metal, even releasing a Christmas album of songs in the genre.
“At my age, the most important thing for me is to keep active by doing things that I truly enjoy,” Lee said in an interview about his musical passions 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.”