Yaphet Kotto, an actor whose career spanned blockbusters like the James Bond film Live and Let Die and Alien, has died. He was 81 years old.
The actor’s death was confirmed Tuesday by his agent, Ryan Goldhar, according to The New York Times. A cause of death has not yet been reported.
Kotto’s wife, Sinahon Thessa, also confirmed his death with a lengthy Facebook post, shared Monday. “Rest in Peace Honey,” she wrote, noting they had been married for 24 years. “I’m gonna miss you every day, my best friend, my rock. I love you and you will always be in my heart. Till we meet again!”
Kotto was born in Harlem, the great-great-grandson of Cameroonian royalty. Though Kotto was proud of his heritage growing up in the United States, he tried to hide it from friends. “I wanted to fit in, not stand out,” he told People in 1994. He turned to acting in his teen years, studying at the Actors Mobile Theater Studio, according to Variety, and making his screen debut in the 1964 romantic drama Nothing but a Man. He worked steadily through the 1960s, notching small parts in shows like Bonanza and Hawaii Five-O.
His career picked up in the next decade, most notably in films like 1979’s Alien, playing chief spaceship engineer Parker. He also played dual villainous roles in the James Bond film Live and Let Die, playing both the dictator Dr. Kananga, and his alter ego, Mr. Big.
Kotto earned an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of President Idi Amin, the infamous Ugandan despot, in the 1976 TV movie Raid on Entebbe. However, TV viewers likely know him best as the authoritative Al Giardello from the Emmy-winning NBC series Homicide: Life on the Street.
The late actor was mourned by the industry as news of his death spread Tuesday. “A brilliant magnetic presence, bringing gravitas & naturalism to deep space or underground Bond lair,” director Edgar Wright tweeted.
“He’s one of those actors who deserved more than the parts he got,” director Ava DuVernay wrote. “But he took those parts and made them wonderful all the same.”
As his career grew, Kotto welcomed his growing relationship with audiences, who came to know him as the consummate character actor. “They can’t think of what picture they have seen me in, but they know me,” he told The Baltimore Sun in 1993. “That’s good. That means I am becoming an institution.”
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