Most people know him as the white wizard Saruman from The Lord of the Rings, or as Count Dooku from Star Wars. Some even know him as a blood sucking vampire from Dracula. Yep, that’s right. It’s Christopher Lee, everybody, the guy who played all of our favorite villains in all of our favorite stories. But, did you know that he was also a historical badass?
Beyond his acting, Christopher Lee spoke six languages, did his own stunts, and has participated in more on-screen sword fights than any actor in history. Oh, and he’s also a knight and a war hero. Christopher Lee spent five years as a British Commando, fighting the Nazis in WWII.
It all started in 1939, when Christopher Lee quit his day job and joined the Finnish armed forces to fight off the Soviet Invasion of Finland. He didn’t see a lot of action, though, and in 1940, he suited up and joined the RAF to kick some Nazi butt.
He became an intelligence officer, cracking Nazi codes, fortresses, and pretty much everything else. Soon, he was assigned to North Africa and the Long Range Desert Patrol (LRDP). He planned sneak attacks on the Luftwaffe (the German Airforce), doing things like jumping into the back of jeeps, machine gun blazing, sabotaging enemy aircraft with explosives, and then melting back into the Sahara Desert. He was so good at it, in fact, that he got transferred to the British Special Ops. During his stint there, he spent his time sabotaging German supply lines in Eastern Europe, and he lead a twelve-man assault on a German Nuclear Facility in Norway and wrecked it. By his retirement in 1945, he’d been decorated as a war hero by four different European governments. He’s so badass, in fact, that his service records are top secret. Christopher Lee never told anyone about them, even when pressed by the media.
Sir Christopher Lee went on to use his experiences even after he’d retired from the British Forces. While filming The Return of the King, when (SPOILERS) Wormtongue stabs Saruman in the back, Lee told Director Peter Jackson he knew exactly what a man who was stabbed in the back sounded like, and proceeded to make an assortment of noises, because, of course, he’d witnessed such a thing before… while kicking Nazi butt.
He belonged to three different stuntman unions, and did all of his own stunts, often getting injured during them. This included breaking his face after smashing head-first into a pane of glass, cutting open his hand during a sword fight, and injuring himself falling into an open grave while filming Dracula.
Christopher Lee kept acting and being freaking awesome all the way up until his death, at age 93, on June 7, 2015, in Chelsea, London. It’s popular opinion that he lived so long that death was afraid to take him, and that when he did actually die, he took death’s job when he got there. RIP, Sir Christopher Lee.
When you’re involved in a war it’s the old saying “If your name’s written on the bullet, there’s nothing you can do about it.” So you just banished it from your mind. Of course, I was scared on some occasions and anyone who says they aren’t scared during an operation probably isn’t telling the truth. I know about six people who had no fear. Literally none. Whether that was due to a lack of imagination or because they’d conquered it, I don’t know. In fact, one was Iain Duncan Smith’s father, who was one of my closest friends. But during a war, people are taught to kill and they have the blessings of the authorities to do so, so if it’s your life or somebody else’s, you want to be quite sure it’s not yours.
— Sir Christopher Lee