Yaphet Kotto death: James Bond and Alien star dies aged 81

Actor enjoyed a number of successful TV and film roles

Roisin O'Connor
Tuesday 16 March 2021 07:52 GMT
Live and Let Die trailer starring Roger Moore and Yaphet Kotto

Yaphet Kotto, the actor who starred as main villain Dr Kanaga/Mr Big in James Bond film Live and Let Die, has died aged 81.

Variety reports that Kotto’s agent, Ryan Goldhar, confirmed the news, as his wife, Tessie Sinahon, posted of his death on Facebook.

“I’m saddened and still in shocked of the passing of my husband Yaphet of 24 years,” she wrote.

“He died last night around 10:30pm Philippine time… You played a villain on some of your movies but for me you’re a real hero and to a lot of people also. A good man, a good father, a good husband and a decent human being, very rare to find.”

She concluded: “One of the best actors in Hollywood a Legend. Rest in Peace Honey, I’m gonna miss you every day, my best friend, my rock.”

No cause of death was given.

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As well as Live and Let Die, in which Roger Moore made his debut as 007, Kotto was known for his performances as Dennis Parker in the sci-fi film Alien (1979), and for his six-year stint as Lieutenant Al Giardello in the long-running TV series Homicide: Life on the Street. For the latter, he also received several scriptwriting credits.

Born in New York City on 15 November 1939, Kotto studied acting as a teenager and made his professional theatre debut aged 19, in a production of Othello.

He performed on Broadway in The Great White Hope, later scoring early movie roles in Nothing But a Man (1964) and in the Oscar-nominated heist film The Thomas Crown Affair.

In 1987, he appeared opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1987 action film The Running Man. Other films he appeared in include Brubaker in 1980, and Blue Collar in 1978.

He reprised his role as Parker in a voiceover spot for the Alien: Isolation video game (2014), along with fellow original castmembers including Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright and Harry Dean Stanton.

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Yaphet Kotto as Parker in Alien
Yaphet Kotto as Parker in Alien (Moviestore/Shutterstock)

In an interview with The Big Issue in 2015, Kotto claimed what was arguably his most famous role, as Mr Big in Live and Let Die, was “played down” around the film’s release because the producers were worried how fans might react to his character.

“They were afraid the public would react negatively to a black villain so they didn’t play my character up,” he said. “That hurt me a lot, man. I went through a lot of goddamn emotional hell because they were afraid people would be angry that a black guy was not being Sidney Poitier. I was the opposite of everything he created.”

While Kotto enjoyed a number of successful roles, he also suggested he made some “bad decisions” over the ones he turned down.

“I should have done [Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek] but I walked away,” he said of the role that was ultimately made famous by Patrick Stewart. “When you’re making movies, you’d tend to say no to TV. It’s like when you’re in college and someone asks you to the high school dance. You say no.”

Kotto is survived by his wife and six children.

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