HOW MANY LIVES CAN A MAN LIVE?
Cats are said to live seven lives. What about a man, or a woman for that matter?
On a recent evening, I was watching a fascinating biopic on ARTE TV. It was about Christopher Lee's life and that question popped in my mind. Christopher Lee is a man who has known amazing ups and downs in his long life. Born in Belgravia, London, he started off well with a silver spoon in his mouth, attending one of the best public schools in England, the kind that leads you to Oxford and Cambridge, and a career in banking or diplomacy. Then things collapsed: his parents divorced, and as a young man, he found himself struggling to earn a living before finishing his education. He suffered as an office boy until World War II. After honourably serving in Africa, he came back to London, still desperate for a job. The turning point was a meeting in 1946 (or 47) with his uncle Carandini, the Italian Ambassador to Britain, who suggested he might become an actor. An extraordinary suggestion if you consider that it was made by a conservative diplomat. And Christopher Lee's mother (a Carandini herself) disapproved, of course. However that is what he did, meeting with increasing success in colourful Dracula roles and other horror movies, including bizarre ones made in Italy, mixing Hercules with vampires.
Then things started to take a turn for the worse. He found himself stuck with his horror movie image and adversely affected by a slowdown in the horror movie market. Horror movies in the 50s and '60s were always considered a B series kind of market, while Christopher Lee had ambition. He knew he was a better actor than that. But the dreadful lull in his career was a long, long one. Anyone else might have lost hope, but not him. Remarkable.
Help came from the most unexpected quarter: from Muhammad Ali the boxer whom he befriended. After winning a major fight, Muhammad Ali mentioned Lee's name as one of his friends who had followed him on TV and Hollywood started to make offers. He hosted the Saturday Night Show in New York and that was followed by some 35 million Americans at the time: a record audience! He came off, not as a horror movie actor, but as a man who could tell jokes and brilliantly entertain with his dry wit. He got to play in a James Bond movie as Scaramanga, the suave, sexy villain in "the Man with the Golden Gun". After that high point, we find him fifteen years later climbing yet other high points starring in several Star Wars episodes and as the fabulous wizard, Saruman the White, in two of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
So he has moved from horror to fantasy and science fiction to hosting a major TV show. Without ever giving up on his original genre, the horror film. He has always felt that the "Wicker Man" in which he played a major role (a film with a difficult distribution history) was outstanding and so it is - and now he is vindicated: see the Guardian article listed below which claims the film has not only renewed the hackneyed horror genre but thrillers in general.
Quite an interesting "career arc": hardly an arc, more like a zig zag! And to crown it all, he has recently agreed to sing with the Heavy Metals. He has a formidable voice and presence, he looks like a Medieval King, Christopher-The Lion-Hearted! He's just released an album, check it out here!
How old is our Heavy Metal singer? Born in May 1922, he is getting on...88 years old. Incredible!
So how many lives can a man have? It would seem that in our times, given the general zeitgeist, the incredible opportunities of our market economy and the lengthening of average life with advances in medicine, a man can have more than one...perhaps as many as three or four.
If you can handle it!
Take a look at Christopher Lee. I think the lesson is clear: what you need is willpower, grit, what the Italians call "grinta". I love the word, the way it sounds: grrrrinta! Don't ever give up on your dreams!