Saturday, 13 September 2014

Richard Kiel: James Bond star dies aged 74

The cinematic world may forever know him as an imposing, steel cap-toothed villain, but in real life he was a man who embraced his cult status and enjoyed a healthy career as a character actor. Richard Kiel, James Bond's steel toothed villain Jaws, has died at the age of 74.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, Kiel had the hormonal condition acromegaly, which was said to have contributed to his height. Years before his time spent menacing Sir Roger Moore with fake gnashes, the 7ft 2in (2.18m) actor had bit the acting bug. He kicked off his career on the stage, supplementing his income by working as a nightclub bouncer and as a maths instructor at night school in Burbank.

In the early years of his career, Kiel worked in a swathe of popular TV series, making his debut in 1960s Western series Klondike. He gained early popularity playing the Kanamit alien in the iconic Twilight zone episode To Serve Man, and from there appeared in a range of shows such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Lassie, I Dream Of Jeannie, The Monkees, The Wild Wild West, I Spy, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Starsky And Hutch and The Fall Guy.

Film-wise, he got his start in low budget B-movies such as The Phantom Planet (1961) and Eegah (1962). He did have a more noticeable role in The Longest Yard (1974), but it was thanks to an appearance alongside William Shatner in Western series Barbary Coast that the Eon film team thought Kiel would work as Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) alongside Sir Roger Moore as 007. Suffering for his art with metallic dentures he could only wear for minutes at a time, Kiel was so memorable in the role that the plan to kill Jaws off at the end of the film was scrapped when a test screening audience reacted positively to him. He was brought back for Moonraker (1979), where he ended up changing his ways, falling in love and speaking his one line "Well, here's to us..."

Both Kiel and Sir Roger were recently guests on BBC Radio 4 programme The Reunion, along with Bond actress Britt Ekland, recalling their roles in the spy series.

During the programme, Kiel said he initially thought playing Jaws – a man who killed people with his teeth – could appear "over the top".

"I was very put off by the description of the character and I thought, well, they don't really need an actor, he's more a monster part," he said.

"So I tried to change that view of it... I said if I were to play the part, I want to give the character some human characteristics, like perseverance, frustration."

Though an idea to have him return once again in For Your Eyes Only (1981) were dropped when the decision was made to try to ground the franchise in something approaching reality once again, Kiel's career continued on a healthy path with work on Force 10 From Navarone (1978), Pale Rider (1985), Happy Gilmore (1986) and, most recently, the voice of Vlad in Walt Disney Pictures' Tangled (2010).

Kiel suffered a bad head injury in 1992, which affected his balance but not his spirit. He co-authored several books, and wrote his autobiography, titled Making It Big In The Movies.

Sir Roger Moore said he was "totally distraught" at the death of his co-star.

"We were on a radio programme together just a week ago," said the former Bond star, adding "[I] can't take it in".

Sandro Monetti, director at Bafta in Los Angeles and a former showbiz reporter, described Kiel as having "teeth of steel, but a heart of gold".

He recalled seeing the actor at James Bond conventions: "It was like seeing kids meeting Santa Claus. Everyone has got such joyous memories of Jaws, and he had time for everybody."

Monetti added: "Whenever you mentioned Jaws, his eyes lit up and there was that famous grin."

Our thoughts are with his friends and family.

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