On Christopher Lee


It might seem strange to say someone who was 93 still had so much life left in him.  But when you pack into nine decades the kind of living Christopher Lee did, it somehow doesn’t seem strange at all.

Lee passed away Sunday at the age of 93.  But I prefer to think he looked around at this world and said, “Well, that’s everything on the list.”  Then tore a hole in the fabric of space and time and simply leveled up, taking his vampire’s cape, his wizard’s staff, his heavy metal guitar, and the locations of several South American Nazi hideaways with him.  He’d beaten the game, got all the achievements, and moved on to the sequel.

My first exposure to Lee was as the flustered German officer playing opposite Toshiro Mifune in Steven Spielberg’s 1941.  Unlike so many other people in that film, Lee played it straight and played it low key, which made his increasing anger at the narrow confines of the Japanese submarine all the funnier.  Thanks to old issues of Famous Monsters, I knew Lee was an important figure in horror, but seeing his funny side first just underlined that he was an actor who did horror, not a horror actor.

By that point, Lee had already played Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, the Mummy, Sherlock Holmes and his brother, Fu Manchu, a Bond villain, and Rochefort from The Three Musketeers.  A fine career for anybody.  But now we know he was just getting started.  Because Middle-earth and a galaxy far, far away were waiting.

At an age when most performers are hanging up their hats and basking in past glories, Lee got to strut his stuff in two of the biggest franchises going:  as Saruman in The Lord of the Rings and as Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels.  Now a whole new generation was finding out what we’d known for years, and Lee reveled in it.  Not only was it gratifying to see him still able to command the screen, it was nice to know the success of those films would see him secure for the rest of his days.  Of course, there was little doubt that, if need be, Lee could simply conquer a small country in which to live.  And that they’d be glad to have him.

Add to his acting career his World War II exploits, which likely would have made any James Bond go pale at the very thought of them, and a late career as an honest-to-god heavy metal artist, and you’ve got plenty of reasons to look at 93 years on this earth as a damn good run.  You can be sad that he’s gone, but not sad that he left even an ounce of living unwrung from this life.

Woe be unto those in whatever world he’s gone on to, who now have to completely revamp their definitions of “awesome” to accommodate him.

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