Christopher Lee dead: Lord of the Rings co-star Ian McKellen pays tribute to on-screen rival

Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee played Gandalf and Saruman, respectively

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The Independent Online

Lord of the Rings actor Ian McKellen has paid a characteristically eloquent and heart-felt tribute to his late co-star and on-screen rival Christopher Lee.

McKellen, 76, is the latest high-profile figure to pay tribute to the iconic actor, after he passed away at a London hospital on 7 June, aged 93.

The pair appeared together in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, with Christopher Lee playing corrupted wizard Saruman and McKellen depicting force-for-good Gandalf.

Recalling the moment the pair met at a dinner party director Peter Jackson threw for the Lord of the Rings cast, McKellen said Lee unwittingly made him feel “inadequate” by telling him he had read JRR Tolkein’s book every year and reciting an extract from the novel.

“Not that that was Chris’s intention: he was 78 and well practised in the art of gentlemanly rectitude. The epitome of “tall, dark and handsome” kept any inner demons for his acting Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and, once, as Sherlock Holmes,” McKellen wrote.

Relaying how Lee defiantly did his own stunts while filming Star Wars between 2002 and 2008, McKellen surmises the actor “wanted to declare he was in old age fit for purpose."

“He needn’t have worried. His acting prowess never declined,” he concluded.

McKellen’s sensitive tribute comes after Jackson wrote on his Facebook page: "He was scholar, a singer, an extraordinary raconteur and of course, a marvellous actor.

"There will never be another Christopher Lee. He has a unique place in the history of cinema and in the hearts of millions of fans around the world.

"The world will be a lesser place without him in it. My deepest sympathies to Gitte and to his family and friends. Rest in peace, Chris. An icon of cinema has passed into legend."

Elijah Wood, who played Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings, tweeted that the actor would be profoundly missed as an “icon, and a towering human being with stories for days.”