Sir Christopher Lee died on Sunday at the age of 93, bringing to a close a long and distinguished acting career — though one fortunately not confined only to the heights of respectability. Lee could get schlocky with the best of them, elevating otherwise clunky, broad, or overly lurid genre films with his inimitable combination of stature, bearing, and (especially) voice, most notably as Hammer Horror’s go-to Count Dracula in the 1950s and 60s, as a James Bond villain in 1974, and as various sinister gray eminences in more recent Star Wars and Lord of the Rings movies.
But Lee made himself equally at home in projects involving the “better” classes of genre as well. His famous voice did supreme justice to the works of Edgar Allan Poe, the 19th-century writer whose work did so much to define modern horror literature. At the top of the post, you can hear Lee give a reading of Poe’s well-known 1845 poem “The Raven”; just below, we have the trailer for Raúl García’s animated adaptation of Poe’s 1839 story “The Fall of the House of Usher,” over which Lee intones suitably ominous narration straight from the text.
If you’d like to hold your own tribute to the late Sir Lee, you’ll want to listen to all his Poe-related work, watch his performances in such films as the thoroughly cult-classic The Wicker Man and the founder-of-Pakistan biopic Jinnah (in which he played the title role, his personal favorite), and play aloud a selection from his stint as a heavy-metal Christmas vocalist. Most artists who began their careers in the 1940s got publicly categorized as “highbrow” or “lowbrow”; Lee’s career, with its many forays right up to the end into the conventional and unconventional, the straight-ahead and the bizarre, existed in a reality beyond brows — the one, in other words, that we all live in now.
Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.