RIP: Christopher Lee

(Image courtesy Hammer Films)

(Image courtesy Hammer Films)

We lost Christopher Lee today.

My kids know him as Saruman and as Count Dooku, in the LOTR movies and the Star Wars prequels — and he wielded a staff or a sword better than men half his age. He lent presence and dignity to the prequels, which otherwise offered viewers very little of either.

My introduction to him was nearly 40 years ago, watching him play Dracula opposite Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing in countless Hammer horror films. In the days before cable, KPLR-TV Channel 11 filled so many of my Saturday afternoons with Hammer movies, all the classic Universal monster films, the Bowery Boys, Abbott & Costello, Ma & Pa Kettle…

Of all of them, Lee must have been the last man standing. His cause of death hasn’t been revealed, but he played Dracula so many times, I always felt certain only a stake through the heart would ever finish him off — only to learn he’d come back to life in some implausible way in yet another delightfully implausible sequel.

His monsters — and he played about a million of them — were never completely monstrous. Lee embodied evil so easily, almost merrily, with an English gentleman’s grace, wit, and charm. More than any other actor except for Vincent Price, he made being bad so much fun. Remember him now as the assassin Scaramanga in Roger Moore’s second James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun — cocktails on the beach at five, followed by murder and perhaps a light snack.

Gone at 93, with 281 credits at IMDB — his most recent being just this year.

Given that lengthy list, you might want to say that Lee was truly the hardest working man in show business.

Except that you never, ever saw him working at it.

Rest well, Sir Christopher Lee — but if you don’t stay dead, that would be OK, too.

(AP file photo)

(AP file photo)