Christopher Lee, an actor who brought dramatic gravitas and aristocratic bearing to screen villains from Dracula to the wicked wizard Saruman in 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy, has died at the age of 93.
Lee appeared in more than 250 movies, taking on memorable roles such as the James Bond villain Scaramanga and the evil Count Dooku in two 'Star Wars' prequels.
But for many, he will forever be known as the vampire Count Dracula in a slew of gory, gothic British Hammer Horror thrillers churned out in the 1950s and 1960s that became hugely popular around the world.
He railed against the typecasting, however, and ultimately the sheer number and range of his roles - including Sherlock Holmes and the founder of Pakistan - secured his place in film history.
"I didn't have dreams of being a romantic leading man," Lee said in 2002. "But I dreamed of being a character actor, which I am."
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London yesterday confirmed that Lee died on Sunday. Lee's family declined to comment or provide more details.
Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was born in London on May 27, 1922. He attended Wellington College, an elite boarding school, and joined the Royal Air Force during World War II. Poor eyesight prevented him from becoming a pilot, and he served as an intelligence officer in North Africa and Italy.
After the war, the 6ft 5in Lee was signed to a contract with Britain's Rank studio, and spent the next decade playing minor roles in a series of formulaic pictures.
He launched his horror career in 1957, starring as the monster in Hammer's 'The Curse of Frankenstein'. In 1958, Lee made his first appearance as the famous vampire in 'Dracula', opposite Peter Cushing's Van Helsing.
Film critic Matthew Sweet said Lee brought a sensuality to the role that fitted with the newly permissive times. "Lee's performance convinced a generation of scholars that 'Dracula' was a book about sex, and not about vampires," Sweet said.
Lee went on to play the Transylvanian vampire in sequels including 'Dracula: Prince of Darkness' and 'Dracula Has Risen From the Grave'.
Starting in the 1970s, Lee tried to shake off the Hammer mantle. He played the villain in Bond film 'The Man With the Golden Gun' and appeared in non-Hammer horror films. The most distinguished was 1973 cult classic 'The Wicker Man'.
Lee appeared in so many movies that he acknowledged he couldn't remember them all. "And certainly some of them you want to forget," he said in 2002.
An energetic man who listed his hobbies as "travel, opera, golf, cricket", Lee never retired. His career flourished late in life, with roles in some of the best-loved film franchises. He also branched out into music, and released a heavy metal album to mark his 92nd birthday.
Lee also appeared in several films by Tim Burton, including 'Sleepy Hollow' and 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory', and was proud of his turn as Pakistan's founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in 'Jinnah'.
Lee married Birgit Kroencke in 1961. Their daughter, Christina, was born in 1963.