LOS ANGELES - Christopher Lee died Sunday night at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London at age 93, authorities have confirmed. Lee had celebrated his 93rd birthday on May 27 at the hospital where he was admitted for heart and respiratory problems earlier that week.
The veteran British actor was known for a variety of roles for a career that spanned 70 years. Lee initially portrayed villains and became best known for his role as Count Dracula. His other notable film roles included Francisco Scaramanga in the James Bond film "The Man with the Golden Gun" (1974), Saruman in "The Lord of the Rings" film trilogy which ran from 2001 to 2003, and "The Hobbit film" trilogy (2012–2014). He also portrayed Count Dooku in the final two films of the Star Wars so-called prequel trilogy (2002 and 2005) and "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" (2008).
Born into an affluent family in London in 1922, Lee traced his lineage back to Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor. After public school he served in Great Britain's Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve during World War II. But his film career began when he joined the Rank Organisation in the UK in 1947, studying to be an actor in their so-called "charm school."
It was his collaboration with the British studio Hammer that made him famous, playing such characters as Frankenstein's monster, The Mummy and Dracula in the heyday of horror movies in the late 1950s.
Lee would go on to reprise the famed vampire role in a number of movie sequels, before finally laying him to rest in the 1970s.
The famed actor appeared in "To the Devil a Daughter," (1976) the last horror movie of the Hammer studio's original era, but returned to Hammer for its relaunch in 2011 of "The Resident," starring Hilary Swank.
With his 6 foot-4-inch frame and rather pointed features, he was generally typecast him as a heavy. Ian Fleming who was his distant cousin author of the James Bond books, wanted him to play Dr No in the film of the same name - but that role went instead went to Joseph Wiseman.
Lee's other films included "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1959), "The Three Musketeers" (1973), and "Jinnah" - which he considered to be one of his best films (1997).
Lee also began an unlikely heavy metal career in recent years. His 2010 album "Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross" earned him a Spirit of Metal Award from Metal Hammer magazine.
More recently, he marked his 92nd birthday by releasing an album of heavy metal cover versions of Christmas songs. Lee is survived by his wife Birgit Kroncke and his daughter Christina Erika Carandini Lee.