Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee, an English actor, author, and singer is known best for his roles as Count Dracula in the Hammer Horror films, Saruman in the “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” Count Dooku in “Star Wars,” and Francisco Scaramanga in the James Bond movie “The Man with the Golden Gun.” However, beyond his showbiz fame are accomplishments not many can easily match, and he certainly deserves a space on this language-focused blog for being a multilingual who is said to be capable of speaking at least six languages
Sadly though, this piece is about the famous actor’s passing away and serves as a tribute for what the 6’5” BAFTA Fellowship award recipient has contributed to the film industry and society in general.
Lee died in Chelsea and Westminster Hospital on June 7, 2015 at around 8:30 AM while being treated for heart and respiratory problems. He suffered from heart failure briefly after he celebrated his 93rd birthday in the hospital. The announcement on his death was rather late as the veteran star’s wife decided that they had to inform the actor’s families first before breaking the story to the media.
Lee’s Earlier Years
Born in Belgravia, Westminster in 1922, his parents were Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Trollope Lee (6oth King’s Royal Rifle Corps) and Italian beauty Contessa Estelle Marie Carandini di Sarzano. Unfortunately, when he was 4 years old, his parents separated, and his mother brought him to Switzerland along with his sister. They eventually returned to England where Lee continued his studies and where his mother remarried to banker Harcourt George St-Croix Rose, who also happened to be an uncle of “James Bond” author Ian Fleming. Lee and Fleming hence became step-cousins.
Lee’s poor skills in maths led to his failure in becoming a King’s Scholar. Nevertheless, he won scholarships in the classics so he pursued studies in Ancient Greek and Latin. He was not an outstanding student and he only played bit roles at school plays so nobody expected him to become as famous as he has become, especially when it comes to the international movie industry.
During World War II (yes Lee is that old to have experienced the tragedy) Christopher Lee volunteered to become part of the Finnish forces. Fortunately, he survived the Winter War in 1939, although he was not able to participate in the actual war. He went to the United States as part of his work where he took on various jobs and volunteered to become part of the Royal Air Force. He was also involved in intelligence work. Lee’s eventful military career can be compared to his colorful life in the entertainment industry.
Career in the Film Industry
Lee’s interest in pursuing a career in showbiz was most likely influenced by his cousin Nicolo Carandini who is now the Italian ambassador to Britain. Carandini asked Lee a simple question, “Why don’t you become an actor, Christopher?” Lee later on was introduced to Filippo Del Guidice, a film producer who opined that he was just what the industry had been looking for. At first, finding an acting job proved to be very challenging. In his debut in the film Terence Young’s Gothic Romance Corridor of Mirrors in 1947, he was only given one line. His breakthrough only happened around five years later when former naval officer and American actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. started making movies at the British National Studios.
Lee eventually gained bigger roles and became more popular with his roles for Hammer starting with “The Curse of Frankenstein” in 1957, “Corridors of Blood” in 1958, “Dracula” in 1958, and “Dracula: Prince of Darkness” in 1965. He had notable performances in “The Wicker Man” and a number of “Musketeers” movies. For the younger generation, Lee is known for his important roles in blockbuster movies like “Star Wars,” “The Lord of the Rings,” and “The Hobbit.”
Career in Music
Not many may know but Christopher Lee has an operatic bass voice. He even lent his voice for the soundtrack of “The Wicker Man” and the closing credits song of the “Funny Man” in 1994. In the comedy musical “The Return of Captain Invincible,” Lee performed a song and dance number. Lee’s career in music, however, didn’t stop with doing movie-associated singing as he also ventured into heavy metal music. He had the opportunity to do a duet with Rhapsody of Fire’s former lead vocalist Fabio Lione. He went on to release metal music, eventually releasing his first complete album “Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross,” which received the “Spirit of Metal” award in 2010. In 2012, he did metal covers of Christmas songs in an EP called “A Heavy Metal Christmas.” This 2012 Christmas album produced a #22 Billboard Hot 100 charter, making Lee the oldest living performer to enter the music charts. He was 91 years and 6 months old then.
Multilingualism and Voice Work
As mentioned, Lee is a multilingual actor. He can fluently speak Italian, Spanish, French and German. He has moderate proficiency in the Greek, Russian, and Swedish languages. In one interview, he also mentioned that he was “conversationally fluent” in Mandarin. Additionally, he had some background in Latin. There are claims that his multilingualism spans up to 12 different languages.
Lee did the original German dubbing for the voice of Thor in the 1986 animated movie “Valhalia.” He also provided the voice for King Haggard in the English and German versions of “The Last Unicorn” in 1982. In the animated versions of “Soul Music” and “Wyrd Sisters,” Lee voiced for the character Death and did the same role for the live action adaptation called “The Colour of Magic.”
Lee’s illustrious career in the film industry is something every actor would want to aspire. His multilingual tongue even makes him more enviable. While he may have not demonstrated his linguistic skills in many of his films (he even barely had lines in his “Dracula” and other monster films), he showed that there are advantages in being multilingual as he did voice work for a number of animated films. His versatile tongue has likely helped him in shifting characters to effectively play the roles he was given.
What do you think of Lee as a person? As the World War II veteran? As the multilingual famous personality in the entertainment industry? Share your praises for the great actor and other thoughts you may have in mind in the comments section below.