Christopher Lee: A staggering work ethic

Posted at 11:13 AM, Jun 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-11 13:34:09-04

Sir Christopher Lee was a Bond villain, had a lightsaber battle with Yoda, played virtually every iconic horror character of the golden age and recorded several heavy metal albums.

To use the parlance of our times, Christopher Lee was a boss.

The 93-year-old British actor died on Sunday — with news of his passing not being publicly announced until Thursday — bringing to a close one of the longest and most impressive careers in show business history.

A look at Lee’s filmography shows 281 screen credits, spanning 70 years in movies and television. That number doesn’t include his career on the stage.

To put that number of credits into perspective, Tom Cruise has played 41 onscreen roles in his 34-year career. He’d have to act for about 200 more years to catch up with Lee. Fellow British screen legend Michael Caine has picked up 160 credits since his first role in 1950. Caine needs another 50 years to catch Lee.

Unlike many lifelong entertainers, Lee never sat back and wrote a memoir collecting his life’s lessons and anecdotes. Instead, he just kept working.

If there was an iconic character from literature or film history, chances are Lee played it — especially if that character was a villain.

Between 1957-1959, Lee assumed the roles of Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the Mummy in separate films. Dracula would perhaps become his most well-known role, as Lee played him several times on screen.

At different points in his career, Lee played legendary antagonists like Ramses, Rasputin and the eyepatch-wearing Rochefort in a 1973 adaptation of “The Three Musketeers.” In 1974, he became a nemesis of James Bond, playing the dastardly Scaramanga in “The Man with the Golden Gun.”

At the age of 79, Lee portrayed the evil Saruman in the blockbuster “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, a role he would reprise in “The Hobbit” series. In 2002, he again played a villainous role, this time in the “Star Wars” saga.

But Lee didn’t only play bad guys, he also filled the shoes of Sherlock Holmes several times between 1962-1992 and even played the inspector’s brother Mycroft Holmes in a 1970 movie.

As of Thursday, Lee still had two films in production, according to the Internet Movie Database.


Clint Davis is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.