When producer Cubby Broccoli needed a henchman for his 10th James Bond film who could rival Goldfinger’s Oddjob for menace and instantly recognisable appearance, the metal-fanged Horror from Ian Fleming’s original novel, The Spy Who Loved Me, was the obvious candidate.
With the 7ft 2in Richard Kiel cast as Jaws, the Bond franchise gained not just another serial-killing baddie, but a steel-toothed villain with a heart of gold, whose unexpected popularity with children led to his becoming arguably the most memorable figure in the series beyond Bond himself.
James Bond aficionados and co-star Roger Moore paid affectionate tribute to the actor yesterday, after he died in California, aged 74.
The towering American, whose 1977 debut was followed by a role in Moonraker with its memorable cable car fight in 1979, died in hospital in Fresno on Wednesday. He had been ill for some time and had recently had surgery after breaking a leg in a fall. His passing marks the last of the “classic-era” Bond villains. Jaws stood out among the pantheon of Bond baddies, a henchman who lingered longer in the cinematic memory than the villains he served.
Introduced as a sidekick to Karl Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me, Jaws was given human characteristics to counter his steel teeth, at the actor’s suggestion, making him a sympathetic and ultimately comic figure when he was spared his original intended fate as a shark’s dinner.
Charlie Higson, author of the Young Bond novels, told The Independent that “Jaws was a child-friendly villain who turned good and he really stands out… He is up there with Oddjob.”
Attempts to replicate the Jaws magic have had mixed results. Grace Jones’s exotic May Day, henchwoman to Zorin in A View to a Kill (1985), follows the same path from implacable villain to Bond ally when she is betrayed. Although Ernst Blofeld, the cat-stroking supervillain from You Only Live Twice, played by Donald Pleasance, is often cited as the ultimate Bond villain, Sir Roger Moore himself selected Jaws as his favourite baddie.
Sir Roger told the BBC: “Richard was a big man with an even bigger heart. He was an enormous man, and with those teeth he looked completely sinister when you saw him bite through things as he did. In one sequence he had his hand over my face. You could only see my eyes. He could well terrify children… but with it he had a tremendous sense of humour.”
The actor said he was “distraught” at the news, since he had recorded a Radio 4 programme, The Reunion, with a “very, very frail” Kiel just a week ago.
Mr Higson said: “Fleming wrote brilliant villains but in my Bond books I did try not to make my villains physically deformed. I was trying to get away from the idea that disabled people are monstrous or scary. You can make villains stand out without giving them physical scars. But Jaws was still an inspiration.”Reuse content