Yaphet Kotto has died at 81. The actor enjoyed a long and storied career in Hollywood, and holds the distinction of being the first major Black James Bond villain. Tessie Sinahon, Kotto’s widow, posted about his death on Facebook. The trades quickly got confirmation from Kotto’s agent and broke the news.
Yaphet Kotto was born in New York City on November 15, 1939. He started acting in the 1960s, humbly beginning as a guest star in then-popular shows such as The High Chaparral, Tarzan, The Big Valley, Gunsmoke, and Hawaii Five-O. He also had small parts in The Thomas Crown Affair, which starred Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, and 5 Card Stud alongside Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum.
After a slew of smaller roles, his big break finally came. One of the most important roles he would ever play came in the 1973 James Bond entry Live and Let Die. The film marked Roger Moore’s debut as 007 and saw Yaphet Kotto embody the villainous Mr. Big. His first big role marked quite a few milestones for the James Bond franchise. From there, Kotto went on to portray Alonzo Mosley in the Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin-led Midnight Run and technician Dennis Parker in the acclaimed 1979 sci-fi film Alien (which may actually be getting a Netflix series here pretty soon). He even appeared in the 1987 action film The Running Man.
In 1976, Yaphet Kotto scored an Emmy nomination for his depiction of Uganda President Idi Amin in Raid on Entebbe. He is also notable for playing Police Lt. Al Giardello in the beloved NBC crime series Homicide: Life on the Street, turning in an astounding and powerful performance that helped the show win Emmys for pretty much every aspect of its production. Kotto was a big part of why that show worked so well, so it would not be unfair to at the very least partially credit him with its amazing success.
In recent years, Yaphet Kotto appeared in episodes of Law and Order, the television film The Corpse Had A Familiar Face, Murder, She Wrote, The A-Team, and countless other films, TV films, and shows. Shortly before his death, he continued to receive tons of offers, most notably one that would have had him working with Tom Cruise.
As you can probably tell, if you did not know already, Yaphet Kotto was an important figure in Hollywood history and an actor responsible for giving us some of the movie world’s best, most classic characters. Given how integral he was, he was definitely underrated. Hopefully, even more people will come to appreciate what he brought to the industry.
Rest in peace, Yaphet Kotto. You and your contributions to cinema will be missed.
If you are not familiar with Yaphet Kotto’s extensive body of work but are interested in checking him out, we highly suggest going back through his filmography and watching his career progress that way. I would even say it is worth watching each and every one of his roles. It really is an inspiring rise to fame.