Website last updated: 7-5-2024

In Memoriam of American actor Yaphet Kotto (1939-2021)

By: Mark Cerulli
Yaphet Kotto Live and Let Die
Iconic character actor – and classic Bond villain – Yaphet Kotto passed away unexpectedly at his home in Manilla, Philippines, aged 81. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.

Born in Harlem, NY, Kotto was descended from Camaroonian royalty. He discovered acting at 16 and by age 19 was playing Othello on stage. Kotto made his film debut in 1964’s Nothing But A Man. Although he made close to 90 films including Blue Collar, Brubaker, Across 110th St. and Midnight Run, Bond fans embraced his 1973 performance as corrupt Caribbean despot, Dr. Kananga (and his alter ego Mr. Big) in Live and Let Die opposite the then-new Bond, Roger Moore. A commanding 6’3”, Kotto more than held his own against the suave British superspy in the box office hit that also launched Moore’s long Bond tenure.

Kotto’s other role forever embedded in pop culture history was as the doomed engineer Parker in the sci-fi smash Alien, directed by Ridley Scott. Following that success he was offered the role of Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back for director Irvin Kershner (director of the 1983 James Bond film Never Say Never Again) but turned it down, fearing typecasting. At the time, he told a film journalist “I wanted to get back down on earth.” (The role ultimately went to Billy Dee Williams.)

Along with his film work, Kotto blazed a huge trail on television, racking up an EMMY nomination for portraying dictator Idi Amin in the 1976 TV movie, Raid on Entebbe. He had a long-running role as a gritty police lieutenant in Homicide: Life on the Street and also appeared in other popular American series like HBO’s The Wire and Law & Order on NBC.

In recent years, Kotto was quite active on Facebook, even answering fan questions. In 2014 he and FSWL founder Anders Frejdh had a long exchange where the actor retold how the idea for a proposed film project, Horror Plane, came to him as he slept in the back of a London taxi. Determined to write it down before the memory faded, he discovered neither he nor the driver had a pen – so they pulled over to ask a London cop! (Who eventually supplied the pen after Kotto explained his dream to the baffled officer.)

His death was reported by his wife, Sinahon Thessa who wrote, “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.”

Mr. Kotto is survived by Sinahon and his 6 children. Our condolences go out to them all. To quote his epic line from Live and Let Die – “Names is for tombstones, baby” and Yaphet Kotto’s name will never be forgotten.

Remembering Yaphet Kotto (tribute video by Joe Darlington of Being James Bond):

Articles in the press about Yaphet Kotto's passing:

>Entertainment Weekly (16-3-2021)
>Deadline (16-3-2021)
>Hollywood Reporter (15-3-2021)
>New York Times (16-3-2021)
>The Guardian (16-3-2021)
>Variety (15-3-2021)



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