Sir Christopher Lee, who died on Sunday at 93, was an amazing actor.
Over the course of his half-century career, he played Count Dracula nine times. He starred as a villain in a Bond film (“The Man With the Golden Gun”). Younger audiences may remember him as Saruman from “Lord of the Rings.” (Or, Count Dooku from “Star Wars Episode II: The Clone Wars,” but we don’t talk about that.)
But beyond his acting prowess, it turns out Christopher Lee was a pretty amazing human, period. According to , he was a descendent of Charlemagne on his father’s side, and of the infamous Borgias on his mother’s side. He sang on multiple heavy metal albums in his 80s and 90s. He served in the Special Operations Executive during World War II (also called Winston Churchill’s “Secret Army”).
Oh, and he also hunted Nazis.
According to The Telegraph, Lee spent time after the war working for the Central Registry of War Crimes, tasked with finding and prosecuting Nazis. This work took him concentrations camps all over Europe, including Dachau. “We were given dossiers of what they’d done and told to find them, interrogate them as much as we could and hand them over to the appropriate authority,” he told The Times in 2009. “We saw these concentration camps. Some had been cleaned up. Some had not.”
This experience reportedly helped himto craft his role as the treacherous Saruman the White in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
In a behind-the-scenes interview on the “Lord of the Rings” set, Jackson revealed how he learned about Lee’s past during a particularly bloody scene.
“When Wormtongue rises up and comes up behind Saruman to stab him, of course it was my job as director to talk to Christopher Lee and to explain to him what I wanted, so I started to go into this long explanation about what sort of sound he should make when he got stabbed,” he explained.
Lee: “I seem to recall that I did say to Peter, ‘Have you any idea what kind of noise happens when somebody’s stabbed in the back? Because I do.”
Jackson: “He proceeded to talk about some sort of very clandestine part of World War II. He seemed to have expert knowledge of exactly the sort of noise that they make and so I just sort of didn’t push the subject any further.”
RIP to the most badass of actors. You’ll be missed.
Anne Cohen was the Forward’s deputy digital media editor. When she’s not looking for the secret Jewish history of Voodoo in New Orleans, or making lists about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she writes for The Assimilator. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism with an M.S. magazine concentration in 2012.
When Christopher Lee Hunted Nazis