As most of you know by now, Sir Christopher Lee passed away since my last Dark Dreams column ran. By now nearly every other site on the web with even the slightest connection to horror has had their say about this incredible human being, but that's not going to stop us from sharing some amazing facts about the horror legend and his extraordinary life. The truth of the matter is that the life and career of Lee only serves to further the adage suggesting that reality is stranger than fiction. In addition to his impossibly prolific film career, Lee was a world champion fencer, a part-time opera singer, a polyglot who mastered and was fluent in six languages, and a superior golfer according to close friends. He also released a heavy metal album in his late eighties to the delight of fans. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning.
Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was born to an Italian contessa on May 27, 1922. He wasn't just Hollywood royalty - he was actual royalty who could trace his lineage to Emperor Charlemagne. He was also related to Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Lee was step-cousins with Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond. Some say Fleming modeled Bond on Lee due to his military experience during World War II, but we'll get back to that in a minute. Fleming wanted Lee to play Bond or, at least Dr. No, but it didn't end up happening in the end.
As a small child Lee met Prince Yusupov and Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, the now infamous assassins of the mysterious Russian monk Rasputin. In 1966 Lee would take on the role of Rasputin for the Hammer Horror film Rasputin the Mad Monk.
When he was seventeen Lee witnessed the death of the murderer Eugen Weidmann in Paris, the last person in France to be publicly executed by guillotine. In fact Christopher Lee was said to have a morbid fascination with public executions. It's been reported that Lee knew the names of every official public executioner employed by England, dating all the way back to the mid-15th century. He'd get to see his fair share of death during the war.
Lee joined the Royal Air Force but wasn't allowed to fly because of vision problems. He signed on to be an intelligence officer for the Long Range Desert Patrol, a forerunner of the modern day SAS, Britain's special forces. During World War II Lee fought the Nazis in North Africa, often having up to five or six missions a day. He helped recapture Sicily and is credited with preventing a mutiny among his troops. Far from the superhuman he's often portrayed as, Lee nevertheless defied his mortality at every turn. During his time in service he contracted malaria six times in a single year. He also recklessly climbed Mount Vesuvius three days before it erupted in 1944.
As the war effort heated up and the tide began to shift in favor of the Allied Forces Lee was moved from the LRDP to Winston Churchill's most elite Special Operations Executive. Those missions are still classified to this day. All we know about them is that they involved espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe against the Axis powers. To be clear we're talking about the fact that Christopher Lee was a spy who hunted Nazis in enemy territory. The nickname for the unit he belonged to was "The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare."
A true patriot up until the moment of his death, Lee never revealed details of his service in the SOE, other than to say he'd seen countless men die in front of him: So much so that it had hardened him to the idea of death.
"Having seen the worst that human beings can do to each other," Lee said, "the results of torture, mutilation and seeing someone blown to pieces by a bomb, you develop a kind of shell. But you had to. You had to. Otherwise we would never have won."