Yaphet Kotto — the Black actor who portrayed one of the most beloved James Bond villains — has died at the age of 81. Kotto’s wife, Tessie Sinahon, first announced his death in a loving Facebook post that was shared to his public page on Monday, March 15.
“I’m saddened and still in shocked of the passing of my husband Yaphet of 24 years. He died last night around 10:30pm Philippine time,” Sinahon wrote, noting the actor still had a lot of plans, including offers for movie roles with Tom Cruise, in the G.I. Joe Franchise and more. She went on to praise her life partner.
“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,” Sinahon continued. “One of the best actor (sic) in Hollywood a Legend. Rest in Peace Honey, I’m gonna miss you everyday, my bestfriend,my rock.I love you and you will always be in my heart.Till we meet again!”
Kotto’s agent, Ryan Goldhar, confirmed the news to Variety. Best known for his dual portrayal of Dr. Kananga and Mr. Big in the 1973 hit “Live and Let Die,” Kotto was also well known for playing technician Dennis Parker in “Alien” in 1979 and Lt. Al Giardello in “Homicide: Life on the Street” — which was one of his last and longest roles. He received an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of former Ugandan President Idi Amin in “Raid on Entebbe” in 1977.
Born Frederick S. Cotto in New York to West Indian and Panamanian parents in 1939, Kotto practiced Judaism. He began studying acting when he was 16 at the Actors Mobile Theater Studio. He made his professional debut in a production of “Othello” at age 19 and went on to perform on Broadway before transitioning into film.
In addition to his “Live and Let Die” and “Alien” roles, Kotto’s filmography included: “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Truck Turner,” “Blue Collar,” “Brubaker,” “The Running Man,” “Midnight Run,” and “Homicide: The Movie,” among others.
Kotto also released music, including a single “Have You Ever Seen The Blues” / “Have You Dug His Scene” in 1967, and enjoyed a successful television career. Some of his TV credits include: “The A-Team,” “Murder She Wrote,” “Law & Order,” and more.
Over the years observers have pointed out that Kotto’s brilliance as an actor didn’t earn him acting roles to match his talent. He himself addressed the way Hollywood pigeonholed him.
“All I’m being offered now are parts that are authority figures. I’ve done that. And that’s not what I want. I want something different,” Kotto once said. “I’m afraid that I’m either going to have to write myself something or direct something if I’m going to get somewhere.”
Upon news of his death, tributes poured in for Kotto, from Hollywood heavyweights to fans of his long career.
“Yaphet Kotto. My Mom’s favorite. He’s one of those actors who deserved more than the parts he got. But he took those parts and made them wonderful all the same. A star. Rest well, sir,” Ava DuVernay tweeted.
“During the pandemic, I’ve spent a lot of time watching classic television and Yaphet Kotto was everywhere from westerns to science fiction, from tv to the big screen. He had a long career as he played roles where his presence always captured your attention. God rest his soul,” @TheTVAddicted tweeted.
He is survived by his wife and six children.