The actor - known as a horror star in the 1950s before finding fame again in later life - had been treated for heart failure and respiratory problems in hospital.

He died at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London on Sunday morning after three weeks of treatment, but his widow decided to withhold the news until today so family and friends could be informed.

Sir Christopher played Dracula in a series of classic films produced by Hammer Horror, and played Bond villain Scaramanga in 1974's The Man With the Golden Gun.

He became known to a new generation of film fans with his roles in Lord of the Rings, where he played evil wizard Saruman, and the Star Wars prequels.

Some of his most acclaimed performances came in cult films - Sir Christopher starred in The Wicker Man, about a remote community living on a Scottish island, and Jinnah, a biopic about the founder of Pakistan. 

After the news broke today, stars and fans paid tribute to the actor whose influence lasted for several generations. 

Jonathan Ross said: 'So sad to hear that Sir Christopher Lee has died. A great actor, a great star, a surprisingly good singer and a lovely lovely man.'

Comedian Omid Djalili wrote on Twitter: 'Scared the living daylights out of me for years. And I loved him for it. RIP Christopher Lee.'

And Boris Johnson added: 'Really sad to hear about the death of Christopher Lee, one of the greatest British actors and a master of the macabre.'

Sir Christopher was married for 54 years to Birgit Kroencke, a Danish former model. The couple have one daughter, Christina.

He served in the Special Forces during the Second World War, but always refused to discuss what he had done during the war, saying he was bound by an oath of secrecy.

The actor hinted at his military expertise during the filming of a gory scene in Lord of the Rings, when he asked director Peter Jackson: 'Peter, have you ever heard the sound a man makes when he’s stabbed in the back? Well, I have, and I know what to do.'

As well as his acclaimed acting career, he had a sideline as a heavy metal singer, releasing four albums in the past two decades, two of which were concept albums about the medieval emperor Charlemagne.

He also unmasked himself as an unlikely Tory in later life, speaking out in support of Michael Howard, William Hague and David Cameron. 

Sir Christopher was awarded the CBE in 2001, and was knighted six years ago for services to drama and charity, although due to his age he was excused from the duty to kneel.

His final film appearance is set to be in Angels of Notting Hill, a comedy about the clash of the everyday with celestial beings.

Courtesy: Daily Mail