You guys know that I’m an old Hammer fan, and so probably won’t need me to tell you how gutted I was to hear the news of his death today. It took me right back to how I felt when I heard about the passing of that other Hammer stalwart, and Lee’s good friend, Peter Cushing.
Lee had spoken in the past of their good friendship, the kind that he said only comes along once in a lifetime. I remember reading somewhere, (I’m not sure whose biography I was actually reading at the time), about how devastated Cushing was when his wife Helen died. He wanted to be with her, and had an unshakeable faith that one day he would be.
One day Lee was talking to that other (non-Hammer) horror actor Vincent Price. I may not recall the conversation word for word, but you will get the gist. Price enquired about Cushing, asking if he still expected to be with his wife when he, too, died.
“Oh very much so. In fact he is looking forward to it.”
Price paused, then said, “And what happens if he goes over and she’s not in?”
Lee recounted this conversation to Cushing later. Cushing was quiet for a moment, then howled laughing. “Only Vincent would say that, and only you would tell me.”
I think that helps illustrate their friendship, and now Lee has joined his friends, the final chapter closing.
Lee was a true great, and, I think, vastly underrated as an actor. I believe in the months and years to come we will realise just what a loss he is to British cinema. He played the bad guy in many films, including James Bond, and both The Lord Of The Rings and Star Wars series of films. He sang opera, and even charted in his eighties with a collection of heavy metal numbers!
But I will always love both he and Cushing, (to me they were both synonymous with each other), for the many Hammer roles that this blood thirsty kid lapped up way back when.
Though he may have tired of the role, he will always be the definitive Dracula. Tonight, I will watch the film where the two iconic roles began for both actors: Van Helsing for Cushing, and the undead Count for Lee- the 1958 film Dracula.
I think you can take next Tuesday’s Hammer Chooseday post as a given.
Thanks for the memories. And the sleepless nights.