“And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. An then it seemed to him that as in his dream of the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”
I knew this was coming. It was just a matter of time. Still—I always held my breath and prayed, and some secret part of me hoped he would live forever. Except nobody does, not even Tolkien’s elves if their grief is too great. Not even Count Dracula. And so he has gone on, into the West.
Christopher Lee is dead.
Typing it feels weird, and wrong, and for the next few years I’m hoping if I stick to the present tense when I refer to him, it won’t be true. He’ll just return as Christopher Lee the White or something.
But he died in London on June 7th of this year, at 93 years old. His wife, Birgit, that he has been wed to since 1961, survives him.
Christopher Lee was one of that rare, wonderful breed of British actors that played in science fiction and fantasy franchises with all the same panache they would give to a Shakesperian play. He was in numerous franchises; if you’ve seen Star Wars or Lord of the Rings or any of Tim Burton’s movies, you’ve seen him. You know him. Everyone knows him—Saruman, Dooku, Ansem the Wise, Death, Lord Summerisle—if I list all his roles I’ll be here for weeks.
But for me, he will always, always be Dracula. Above all else, before any of the other actors who have played the old Count, I will always picture Christopher Lee resplendent in a cape and dripping with charming menace.
I can’t actually believe it. It hasn’t sunk in yet. He was such a prolific actor, starring in the Hammer horrors that drove the original monster-movie market to such new heights—the Hammer horrors I spent late nights watching downstairs in the basement. He was both Dracula and the Mummy, and Peter Cushing’s foil on screen. They were in so many films together that are getting so much harder to watch with both of them gone. He was in The Wicker Man—the good one—as Lord Summerisle, one of his personal favorite roles and self-proclaimed best work.
He also voiced Pratchett’s Death in The Colour of Magic, and I’m going to ignore how both of them now being dead makes this the saddest thing. And he was in Kingdom Hearts! Presumably on a dare, but he’s been in so many things I know and love and have watched and held close in my heart that it doesn’t feel like one huge hole has been poked into it, but rather a thousand little pinpricks of loss. And frankly, that hurts more. It’s like a constellation of hurt.
Christopher Lee was an old friend of Tolkien, and as such, the only one on the set of the films who knew him personally, and advised Peter Jackson on Tolkien’s personal vision. He was an enormous fan of the books, and embraced acting in the movies with enthusiasm and aplomb, bringing gravitas to the role of Saruman.
Also, he recorded a metal album, which isn’t acting related, but everyone should know that. Plus, he was actually a Count by matrilineal descent, his mother being a Contessa. He was actually royally qualified to be Count Dracula!
He was one of the elite World War II soldiers whose greatest missions are actually still classified by the British government, but working with Ian Fleming inspired the author’s creator of another famous spy you might know. In fact, he was even part of the Bond franchise, playing Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun. His war experience gave him a knowledge of combat that allowed him to actually instruct Peter Jackson on the proper way to have people stabbed in Lord of the Rings, which is honestly my favorite thing, ever.
I don’t want to be sad. I mean, I am, but I almost wish I wasn’t. Christopher Lee lived a wonderful rich life, and when the initial punch in the gut of his death passes, I hope only to remember him as a fantastic, brilliant man, who contributed so many good things to all the movies I loved. He was part of a fast-disappearing breed of actors who gave their all to every role, and he acted as glamorous and grand as Dracula or the Mummy as he would for Othello or Lear. He was one of a kind. He was a true master of his craft, a wonderful man by all accounts, and passionate about his art. There are no more men like him on this Earth, and there will not be again.
I wanted to end the closest thing I can get to a eulogy with something grand and powerful, because he deserved it, but I don’t want to make it seem distant. I want his death to be keenly felt, because the loss of such a powerful, prolific actor should be felt. I want to convey the hurt and loss much more than I do a sense of grandeur. There will be time for that later. All we have to do is turn on one of his films and we can have that grandeur, that suave charm and villainous poise back. But the world can’t get him back. So I want to keep my last words simple and clearly understood.
I’m going to miss him so much.
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