Yaphet Kotto: James Bond villain and Alien actor dies at 81

Live and Let DieImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Kotto as Dr Kananga giving Roger Moore's James Bond a grilling in Live and Let Die

Yaphet Kotto, best known for playing a villain in 1973 James Bond movie Live and Let Die, has died at the age of 81.

The actor also played a crew member in 1979 sci-fi movie Alien, and starred in US TV police drama Homicide: Life on the Street.

Kotto's other credits included the 1980s action films The Running Man and Midnight Run.

He also received an Emmy nomination for playing former Ugandan President Idi Amin in the 1977 movie Raid on Entebbe.

His TV career also included roles in the A-Team and Law and Order, and he played Lieutenant Al Giardello in seven series of the gritty Homicide: Life on the Street, for which he also worked as a scriptwriter.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Kotto starred in sci-fi blockbuster Alien

He died on Monday in the Philippines, his wife Sinahon Thessa said on Facebook. "You played a villain on some of your movies but for me you're a real hero and to a lot of people also," she wrote.

"A good man, a good father, a good husband and a decent human being, very rare to find. One of the best actors in Hollywood, a Legend. Rest in Peace Honey, I'm gonna miss you everyday, my best friend, my rock."

I'm saddened and still in shocked of the passing of my husband Yaphet of 24 years. He died last night around 10:30pm...

Posted by Sinahon Thessa on Monday, March 15, 2021
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Tributes came from Hollywood figures including Ava DuVernay, who said he was "one of those actors who deserved more than the parts he got", and fellow director Edgar Wright, who described him as "a brilliant magnetic presence".

Kotto was born in New York to a Cameroonian immigrant father and a US Army nurse, and studied acting from the age of 16. At 19, he made his professional theatre debut in Othello, and later performed on Broadway in The Great White Hope.

His first few film projects included Nothing But a Man in 1964 and The Thomas Crown Affair in 1968.

Kotto drew plaudits for his role as the first black Bond villain Dr Kananga - an evil Caribbean diplomat whose alter ego was a New York drug lord - in Live and Let Die, starring Roger Moore.

Kotto then had roles in 1974's Truck Turner and 1978's Blue Collar. In Ridley Scott's Alien, he took the role of the space ship's engineer Dennis Parker.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Yaphet Kotto had a varied career in film and TV

Following the film's success, Kotto turned down a role in Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back because he was wary of becoming typecast in the sci-fi genre.

"I wanted to get back down on Earth," he said in an interview. "I was afraid that if I did another space film after having done Alien, then I'd be typed.

"Once you get one of those big blockbuster hits, you better have some other big blockbuster hits to go with it too and be Harrison Ford, because if you don't… you place yourself right out of the business."

He also said he turned down the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, the character made famous by Sir Patrick Stewart in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

"I should have done that, but I walked away," he admitted in 2015. "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."

Image source, Getty Images

Kotto went on to play a supporting role in Brubaker in 1980, and then appear as a resistance fighter alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1987's The Running Man, and as an FBI agent in Robert De Niro's Midnight Run the following year.

His other film credits also included Bill Cosby's Man and Boy (1971), Across 110th Street (1972), Report to the Commissioner (1975), The Star Chamber (1983), Warning Sign (1985), Eye of the Tiger (1986) and Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991).

Kotto's other TV roles included appearances in For Love and Honor, Murder She Wrote and Death Valley Days.

Most recently, he reprised his role as Lieutenant Giardello in Homicide: The Movie in 2000, and voiced his Alien character Parker in the Alien: Isolation video game.

Kotto is survived by six children and had been married three times.

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