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Christopher Lee

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During his prolific career of nearly 70 years, British actor and singer Sir Christopher Lee established himself in a variety of roles, sometimes iconic, frequently villainous, and usually interesting. After an impressive military career during World War II, Lee plied his trade in small background roles for a decade before establishing himself in the horror genre, most notably playing Count Dracula in various films for London's Hammer Studios. It was near the end of his horror film heyday that he made his first musical appearance, robustly singing Paul Giovanni's folk song "Tinker in the Rye" in the 1973 horror mystery musical The Wicker Man. His role as pagan religious leader Lord Summerisle in the British cult classic remained a personal favorite of his. A longtime fan of occult and fantasy literature, he later sang a track on the 1977 British folk concept album The King of Elfland's Daughter based on Lord Dunsany's classic fantasy novel. After relocating to Hollywood in the early 80's, he played the role of Mr. Midnight in the comedy/rock musical The Return of Captain Invincible, singing the Richard O'Brien-penned "Name Your Poison." A passionate opera enthusiast who possessed a deep, operatic bass voice, Lee recorded a version of Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale in 1986 where he sang every role. Later in the mid-'90s, he issued a collection of musical and opera pieces called Christopher Lee Sings Devils, Rogues & Other Villains. In 2005, Lee's love of both opera and fantasy would converge in an unusual way. Classically trained singer Fabio Lione of Italian power metal group Rhapsody of Fire approached him to record a duet on the band's third single "The Magic of the Wizard's Dream." At 83, it was Lee's first encounter with heavy metal and as the veteran actor enjoyed a late career renaissance as the wizard Saruman in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, he also launched a new career as a fantasy metal singer. He continued to collaborate with Rhapsody of Fire and also joined metal kings Manowar on a track. On 2006's Revelation, his second collection of opera and musical pieces, he included a metal adaptation of "Toreador Song" from the opera Carmen featuring the band Inner Terrestrials. His solo metal debut arrived in 2010 with Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross, a symphonic concept album that won him the "Spirit of Metal" award from the Metal Hammer Golden Gods ceremony later that year. The award was presented to him by Black Sabbath legend Tony Iommi. Showing a playful sense of humor, he released the EP A Heavy Metal Christmas in December 2012. Moving into full-on heavy metal, he released his follow-up LP Charlemagne: The Omens of Death the following year that featured arrangements by Judas Priest guitarist Richie Faulkner. A second holiday EP, A Heavy Metal Christmas Too, was released at the end of 2013 with the single "Jingle Hell" reaching number 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making the 91-year-old Lee the oldest living performer to ever enter the music charts. His twilight metal career continued in 2014, first with the EP Metal Knight and then with the holiday single "Darkest Carols, Faithful Sing," which would prove to be the last recording before his death in June 2015 at the age of 93. ~ Timothy Monger

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