Star who, along with Peter Cushing, was Hammer's most successful and prolific leading player. He is also one of the most prolific actors in the west today, with over 250 films to his credit since 1948.
His first role for Hammer was as the Creature in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), a role to which he brought a humanity and pathos not seen since Boris Karloff's famed portrayal of the 1930s. Despite being unrecognizable under Phil Leakey's gruesome makeup, his success in the role was enough to secure him second billing in the title role of Hammer's 1958 Dracula. It was this part (below left) that has remained his most famous, despite his increasingly public displeasure at being associated so strongly with the role. He was to reprise the role six times for Hammer alone, as well as in a handful of non-Hammer films.
He was most frequently cast by Hammer as villainous types, such as the Mummy (1959), Captain Robeles in The Devil-Ship Pirates (1964) and Rasputin, the Mad Monk (1966), but he occasionally shone in more virtuous roles, most memorably as the Duc de Richleau in The Devil Rides Out (1968, top right). It was 1965 before producers convinced him to return as Dracula - he had opted out of Brides of Dracula (1960).
Around this same period he appeared several times for Amicus, in portmanteau films such as Dr Terror's House of Horrors (1965) and The House That Dripped Blood (1970). He also took on several other memorable horror parts in films including The Face of Fu Manchu (1965, spawning a number of increasingly poor sequels) and The Wicker Man (1973), a film he has always regarded as his finest.
The 1970s and 1980s saw a host of films both inside and outside the horror genre, and largely in Europe, where his multilingual skills ensured him regular - if unremarkable - work. It was in 2001 that he suddenly regained massive international fame as Saruman in the first and second of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, based on the books by JRR Tolkien, of which Lee was a big fan. In the same fantasy vein, he also played Count Dooku in Episodes II and III of George Lucas's new Star Wars trilogy.
He has been known for his distinctively deep voice, his stature - at 6 feet 5 inches, he holds the Guinness world record as the tallest leading actor - his handsome European looks and his somewhat stern demeanour.
HAMMER FILMOGRAPHY: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957); Dracula (1958); The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959); The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959); The Mummy (1959); The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll (1960); The Terror of the Tongs (1961); Taste of Fear (1961); Pirates of Blood River (1962); The Devil-Ship Pirates (1964); The Gorgon (1964); Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1965); Rasputin, the Mad Monk (1965); Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968); Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970); The Scars of Dracula (1971); Dracula AD 1972 (1972); The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973); To the Devil a Daughter (1976).