On paper, the death of a 93-year-old with a lifetime of movie business madness behind him shouldn’t arrive as much of a shock. Christopher Lee, though, you always kind of just assumed to be immortal. And not just because the British film icon spent so much of his screen life portraying villainous masters of the undead – most famous of all being Dracula, whose already-chilling gothic fable he raised to even greater levels of sleep-with-the-lights-on terror across a string of legendary Hammer Horror films in the late 1950s and 1960s. Lee never looked like taking a weekend off, let alone leaving us altogether – his 206th and final living film appearance, in ‘Angels Of Notting Hill’ came only last year. He also, not everyone would know, continued making music – thunderous, unashamedly bombastic heavy metal full of the same arch melodrama of his greatest and most famous movie roles – right till the end. Only six months ago, the Lord of the Rings man released a Christmas single, ‘Darkest Carols, Faithful Sing’, following festive EPs in 2012 and 2013 that span dark, chugging webs over the baudy schmaltz of the season. John Lewis ad music it ain’t.
His love for metal arrived late, but enveloped his final years, and now, as tributes to the star tumble in, seems to speak volumes about his badass spirit. It was 2005 when Italian troop Rhapsody enlisted him to narrate their batshit crazy single ‘Magic of the Wizard’s Dream’ – his greatest music moment since appearing on the sleeve to Wings’ ‘Band On The Run’ record in 1973 (he’d also sung on a bunch of film soundtracks and released a largely overlooked 1998 blues album called ‘Devils, Rogues & Other Villains’). “My dream when I was young, was to be an opera singer,” he explained in 2010. Finding the same outlandishness and grandeur among the blistering 100mph guitar histrionics of symphonic metal, he explained: “Now I have been able to do it and in a style which was unknown to me until very recently.” Three albums followed. Where you and me, reader, will probably spend our 90th birthdays eating Werther’s Originals in nursing homes in front of terrible TV if we’re lucky, Christopher Lee celebrated his by announcing ‘Charlemagne: The Omens of Death’ – a punishingly high octane concept heavy metal album featuring members of Judas Priest that charted an ancient Roman blood line and, on the cover, found Lee dressed up like a medieval king standing in a sea of lava waving a fuck-off sword about.
Lee wasn’t perfect. He was a huge supporter of the Conservative party, backing David Cameron before the last election, and had a number of multiplex misfires, phoning in a hammy turn as Count Dooku in the heinous Star Wars prequels. But there’s a lot to admire in a man who decided it’s never too late in life. “At my age, the most important thing for me is to keep active by doing things that I truly enjoy,” he said six months ago of his forays into metal, a lesson to be learned from. So farewell Christopher Lee. Keep shredding in the afterlife.