Entertainment & Arts

In Pictures: Sir Christopher Lee's career in film

Sir Christopher Lee Image copyright Getty Images

Sir Christopher Lee has died at the age of 93.

The veteran actor, whose films include Dracula, The Wicker Man and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, died on Sunday morning at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, according to reports.

The decision to release the news days later was based on his wife's desire to inform family members first. The couple had been married for more than 50 years.

Here are some of his career highlights in pictures.

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"Initially, I was told I was too tall to be an actor," Sir Christopher told Total Film in 2013. "I thought, 'Right, I'll show you.'"

After an uncredited debut in Laurence Olivier's film version of Hamlet, he spent 10 years as a bit-part player, before signing a contract with horror studio Hammer.

His first film for Hammer was The Curse of Frankenstein, in which he played the monster opposite Peter Cushing as Frankenstein.

The duo went on to make more than 20 films together.

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The actor made his first appearance as a vampire in 1958's Horror of Dracula.

He went on to play Dracula nine times - although he disliked being linked with the role in later life.

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Sir Christopher had no lines in 1965's Dracula: Prince of Darkness.

A popular myth suggests the written dialogue was so bad that the star chose to hiss instead of saying his lines.

However, internal memos showed his agreement to record a TV trailer for the production - which also had extremely poor lines - suggesting that the decision to play the part silent had been taken by the director.

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Sir Christopher's first two Dracula films were banned in Australia, but the third - Dracula Has Risen From The Grave - passed after receiving several cuts.

It ran for a three-week season at Sydney's Capitol theatre in January 1970.

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But the star was not restricted to vampirical roles, playing the title character in 1966's Rasputin, the Mad Monk.

Hammer was very nervous of the film, aware that MGM had been sued in 1933 by Princess Irina Romanoff Yusupov, who claimed a previous film about Rasputin had invaded her privacy by erroneously portraying her as his mistress.

As such, the Hammer film came with the disclaimer: "This is an entertainment, not a documentary. No attempt has been made at historical accuracy... all the characters and incidents may be regarded as fictitious."

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The actor also starred as the criminal fiend Fu Manchu in a series of 1960s films, starting with The Face of Fu Manchu.

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A distant cousin and golfing partner of James Bond creator Ian Fleming, Sir Christopher was in the frame to play Doctor No in the first Bond movie.

Joseph Wiseman eventually won the part, but Sir Christopher later appeared opposite Roger Moore's 007 in 1974's The Man With The Golden Gun.

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Cult thriller The Wicker Man, about pagan worshipers on a remote Scottish island, was the actor's personal favourite from his filmography - although he disliked the cut released to cinemas in 1973.

"It was shown in a butchered form," he said. "Even the DVD is butchered. What happened to that film, I still don't know. The negative disappeared from that day to this."

A restored version, reinstating most of the original footage, was released in 2013.

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In a career essaying villains, possibly his most comedic turn came in Gremlins 2 - where he played the unfortunately named Doctor Catheter.

Director Joe Dante said: "The idea of the Christopher Lee character being a geneticist came in because [special effects artist] Rick Baker didn't want to do the movie unless he could design new gremlins. So how are we going to get new gremlins? Well, we'll have a character who can create them, this mad-scientist geneticist."

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In the 21st Century, the actor appeared as Saruman in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy and in the director's two Hobbit films, as well as playing Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels.

"This last decade has been the most extraordinary decade of my life," he said in a 2012 interview.

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Knighted in 2009, Sir Christopher was given the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) fellowship in 2011.

He was presented with the award by Tim Burton, with whom he made four films: Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd and Dark Shadows (he also narrated the poem that became The Nightmare Before Christmas).

Accepting the award, he said: "There was a newspaper this morning that said I was going to cry - something I don't often do, in films at any rate.

"But it's a very emotional moment for me. I'm thankful that I don't follow in the steps of the great Stanley Kubrick, whose award was posthumous."

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Still active into his 90s, he recorded several heavy metal albums and, in 2012, attended the premiere of James Bond film Skyfall, along with his wife, Brigit.

He said the secret to having a 50-year marriage was simple. "Marry someone wonderful."

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