Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee (May 27, 1922 — June 7, 2015) was an English actor, author, and singer who portrayed the wizard Saruman in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings (2001 - 2003) and The Hobbit (2012 - 2014) trilogies.
Sir Christopher was born on May 27 in Belgravia, Westminster, England, the son of the Contessa Marie and Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Lee of the 60th King's Royal Rifle Corps. Lee's mother was a famous Edwardian beauty who was painted by Sir John Lavery, as well as Oswald Birley and Olive Snell, and was sculpted by Clare F. Sheridan. Lee's maternal great-grandfather had been an Italian political refugee who sought refuge in Australia; his great-grandmother was Australian opera singer Marie Carandini.
His parents separated when he was very young and his mother took Lee and his sister to Switzerland. After enrolling in Miss Fisher's Academy in Wengen, he played his first villainous role as Rumpelstiltskin.
The family returned to London where Christopher attended Wagner's private school. His mother then married Harcourt "Ingle" Rose, a banker and uncle of the James Bond author Ian Fleming. Lee applied unsuccessfully for a scholarship to Eton although the interview was to prove portentous because of the presence of the noted ghost story author M. R. James. Lee later claimed in his autobiography that James had cut a very impressive figure; sixty years later Lee played the part of M.R. James for the BBC. Instead, Lee attended Wellington College where he won scholarships in classics. Lee witnessed the execution of Eugen Weidmann, the last person to be publicly executed in France, in June 1939. He volunteered to fight for the Finnish forces during the Winter War against the Soviet Union in 1939; however, as Lee admits in his autobiography, he and his fellow British volunteers were in Finland only a fortnight and kept well away from the Russian forces the whole time. He went on to serve in the Royal Air Force and intelligence services during World War II including serving as an Intelligence officer with the Long Range Desert Group. He trained in South Africa as a pilot but eyesight problems forced him to drop out. He eventually ended up in North Africa as Cipher Officer for No. 260 Squadron RAF and was with it through Sicily and Italy. Additionally, he mentioned (including in his audio commentary on the Lord of the Rings DVD) serving in Special Operations Executive, though all details of actions undertaken by members of the SOE are still classified. Lee retired from the RAF after the end of the War with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. Christopher Lee was the only person from The Lord of the Rings film trilogy to have ever actually met J.R.R. Tolkien.
Christopher Lee died on June 7, 2015 at 8:30 A.M. while being treated for respiratory problems and heart failure, shortly after celebrating his 93rd birthday. His wife, Gitte Kroencke, released the news of his death a few days later.
- Lee auditioned for the part of Gandalf, but according to an interview with Lawrence French called Sir Christopher Lee on The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Lee stated "Of course I would have loved to play Gandalf, but I don’t think he (Peter Jackson) ever had me in mind for Gandalf, because by that time I was too old." It is also further stated on Wikipedia, due to his physical limitations, the amount of fighting and horseback riding involved in the role was what prevented Lee from being considered. Playing Saruman was more ideal since it involved less fighting and horseback riding. (Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee had a 17 year age difference.)
- Lee was the only actor of The Lord of the Rings who had ever met Tolkien.
- He is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as one of the world's tallest actors (6'5").
- Lee is said to have had more recorded sword fights than any other actor in history.
- After his first role as Dracula, Lee appeared as the vampire in six other Dracula films. He also played 'The Creature' in The Curse of Frankenstein.
- Lee was fluent in Italian (his grandfather was Italian) and German. He spoke moderate French.
- According to a behind scenes footage found on YouTube, during the filming of his character Saruman's death scene for the The Return of the King, (later put in the Extended Edition) Peter Jackson began to coach him how he (Jackson) wanted Lee to react when Saruman was stabbed in the back by Grima (Brad Dourif). However, Lee interrupted him, reminding him that Lee actually had previously heard the sound a man makes when he is stabbed in the back. Jackson explains in the commentary "He proceeded to talk about a very clandestine part of World War II. He seemed to have expert knowledge on exactly the kind of noise they make." Producer Barry Osborne mentions "He (Lee) was part of the British Secret Service or OSS or whatever they were called." Jackson never pushed the subject and allowed Lee to proceed.
- Christopher Lee read The Lord of the Rings in its entirety once a year.
- Lee received the Award BAFTA Fellowship in 2011.
- The Carandinis, Lee's maternal ancestors, were given the right to bear the coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire by the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Cinemareview cites: "Cardinal Consalvi was Papal Secretary of State at the time of Napoleon and is buried at the Rome Pantheon in Rome next to the painter Raphael. His painting, by Lawrence, hangs in Windsor Castle".
- Lee was a step-cousin of Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond spy novels. He played the villain Scaramanga in the Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun.
- In the film The House that Dripped Blood Lee, in one clip, is filmed reading a paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings.
- Reportably he was considered for a part in the movie "The Longest Day" as a RAF officer but didn't get it; ironically Lee had actually served in the RAF during World War II.
- The audio edition of The Children of Húrin was narrated by Lee.
- Two of Lee's most famous performances have been echoed and succeeded by Graham McTavish, who portrays Dwalin in The Hobbit film trilogy:
- Lee played Lord Summerisle, the villain of the 1973 horror film The Wicker Man (which he himself considered his best work). In 2011, the film's director, Robin Hardy, directed a "spiritual sequel", The Wicker Tree, in which the lead antagonist was played by McTavish. Lee also made a small cameo in the film as the mentor of McTavish's character.
- Beginning in 2017, McTavish has voiced Count Dracula in the television series Castlevania (opposite Richard Armitage).
- He appeared in the 1989 film The Return of the Musketeers, which also featured Billy Connolly and Alan Howard.
- He appeared in the 1992-1993 TV series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which also featured James Nesbitt and Anthony Daniels.
- He played Count Dooku in the 2002 film Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (which also featured the voice of Marton Csokas) and its 2005 sequel Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (which also featured Bruce Spence). Both films also featured Anthony Daniels.
- He appeared in the 2007 film The Golden Compass, which also featured Derek Jacobi and the voice of Ian McKellen.
- He had a voice role in the 2010 film Alice in Wonderland, which also featured Marton Csokas and the voice of Stephen Fry.
- He appeared in the 2010 film Burke & Hare, which also featured Andy Serkis.
- He appeared in the 2011 film The Resident, which also featured Lee Pace.
- He appeared in the 2011 film The Wicker Tree, which also featured Graham McTavish.
- He had a voice role in the 2013 animated anthology Extraordinary Tales, which also featured the voice of Guillermo del Toro.
- (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Special Extended Edition appendices) Part Two: From Vision to Reality, "Cameras in Middle-earth" (2002)
- "Christopher Lee dead: Legendary actor passes away at the age of 93". Independent. 11 June 2015.
- "Christopher Lee dies at the age of 93". Guardian. 11 June 2015.
- "Christopher Lee, Legendary Movie Villain and Horror Icon, Dies at 93". The Hollywood Reporter. 11 June 2015