June 11, 2015 7:56 am
Updated: June 11, 2015 6:42 pm

Actor Christopher Lee dead at 93

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ABOVE: Few actors can match the longevity of Christopher Lee. You may not recognize his name right away, but you most certainly watch him in his movies. Lee died at the age of 93. Mike Drolet looks at the career of an actor who exuded immortality.

TORONTO — Veteran actor Christopher Lee, familiar to young audiences for his role in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is dead at 93.

The actor died Sunday at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, where he was being treated for respiratory problems.

News of his death was only made public Thursday because his wife of 54 years, Birgit, wanted to advise family members first. The couple have one daughter, Christina, 52.

Born in London, Lee moved to Switzerland as a young boy with his mother and sister following his parents’ divorce. The family later returned to England, where Lee’s mother married an uncle of James Bond author Ian Fleming. (Lee would later play a Bond villain in 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun.)

Lee acted in school plays and was active in sports before serving in World War II.

He then worked steadily in front of the camera, mostly in short films and on TV. His size and deep voice made him perfect for scary roles, and Lee found himself playing The Creature in 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein, Count Dracula in 1958’s Horror of Dracula and the titular role in 1959’s The Mummy.

He played Dracula again in 1966’s Dracula: Prince of Darkness, 1968’s Dracula Has Risen from the Grave and 1970’s Count Dracula and Taste the Blood of Dracula.

Worried about being typecast in horror films — like his friend Vincent Price — Lee moved to the U.S. in 1977, where he landed a role in Airport ’77 and Return from Witch Mountain. Director Steven Spielberg saw him hosting Saturday Night Live and cast him in 1941 as Capt. Wolfgang von Kleinschmidt.

Lee told the BBC one of his greatest regrets was turning down the role in Airplane! that went to Canada’s Leslie Nielsen.

He amassed a long list of credits in movies and TV series and mini-series before being chosen to play Saruman in The Lord of the Rings trilogy (and several LOTR video games) and in two of The Hobbit movies, and Count Dooku in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. Lee also portrayed Dr. Wonka in the 2005 reboot of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

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Prior to his death, Lee was cast in The 11th, a dramatic feature starring Uma Thurman and Isabel Lucas.

“I didn’t have dreams of being a romantic leading man,” Lee told The Associated Press in 2002. “But I dreamed of being a character actor, which I am.”

In addition to acting, Lee was known for recording several albums, EPs and singles — mostly in the heavy metal genre.

In 2001, Lee was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and was made a Knight Bachelor in 2009. France honoured him as a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in 2011.

During his career, Lee earned dozens of awards and nominations. He received an Academy Fellowship from the BAFTA Film Awards in 2011 and a BFI Fellowship in 2013 from the British Film Institute Awards.

Tributes for Lee are flooding social media.

© 2015 Shaw Media

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