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GOODNIGHT, SWEET COUNT
6/11/15

by Simon Glickman

Nerds everywhere lost a patron saint today. Christopher Lee is dead.

As a kid, I found the tall, deep-voiced English actor to be the epitome of cool—particularly in his signature role as Dracula in a spate of lurid Hammer flicks spanning a decade and a half—with a hypnotic combination of menace and dash. No matter how silly those bloodsucking sequels became, Lee brought a gravitas that made them sing.

There are intimations of a Shakespeare villain in his first limning of the Count, known in the U.S. as Horror of Dracula (1958); he was given less and less dialogue in the increasingly cheesy sequels (cue plastic bat attacking serving wench with plunging neckline) but always made the best of it. In a non-Hammer entry filmed in Mexico by Jess Franco, 1971’s Count Dracula, he had an opportunity to embrace the original Bram Stoker story again and found remarkable pathos and depth.

But like Lon Chaney Jr. a generation before, Lee also embodied a gallery of other horror heroes for his studio: the Frankenstein monster, the Mummy, Dr. Jekyll, Fu Manchu and so on. His magnetic presence electrified even the most prosaic of these flicks. He was a Bond villain, a foil for the Three Musketeers, Sherlock Holmes’ brother. And in entries like the marvelously campy The Devil Rides Out he was a compelling good guy, battling Satan and pouring glasses of sherry with an aplomb that would’ve done Queen Victoria proud.

Speaking of royalty, he became Sir Christopher Lee in 2009, by order of Her Majesty.

Lee’s career had a spectacular final act, with key roles in both the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Star Wars prequels, thus ensuring his patriarchal presence would be seared into the imaginations of kids once more.

It was a fantastic career by any measure, and a long life: His leonine heart beat for almost 93 years. For me, though, his passing is like losing a member of the family. The photo accompanying this little note? It’s from my personal collection.