Richard Kiel, the American actor who portrayed quintessential Bond henchman Jaws in two James Bond adventures, has sadly passed away. He was three days shy of turning 75.
The towering 7’2” actor was born Richard Dawson Kiel in Detroit, Michigan on September 1939.
Kiel first came to attention playing the ambiguous alien Kanamit in the classic 1959 Twilight Zone episode ‘To Serve Man’ – featuring the immortal line “It’s a cookbook!” – which was subsequently etched itself into popular culture and was later memorably parodied in The Naked Gun 2.5: The Smell Of Fear and in an episode of The Simpsons.
Kiel also played a prehistoric caveman in the Sixties cult classic teenage drama Eegah but it was in the late Seventies that the giant actor was catapulted to international fame.
Perhaps not too many people are aware that Kiel was originally cast as The Incredible Hulk before Lou Ferrigno famously embodied the role. Kiel was contracted to appear in the TV-movie pilots, but when producers later decided they preferred a bodybuilder in the part the actor was paid off. Kiel, who was blind in one eye, was quietly relieved however, as he had experienced enormous physical irritation in the role.
“I got black and blue eyes from putting the contact lenses in and the fluid collected in the cornea so I was seeing rainbows all the time,” he told SciFiNow in June when we caught up with him at Sydney Supanova. “It really affected my vision and I couldn’t drive at night either. They later said ‘How would you feel if we were to pay you for these movies and you didn’t have to do them?’ So that was great and of course I went on to do the Bond films.”
Indeed, Kiel’s greatest role came as one of James Bond’s most formidable foes – that of the seemingly undefeatable, steel-toothed henchman Jaws in two Bond adventures.
First cast in the role in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, Jaws proved so popular with audiences that Kiel was asked to reprise the character two years later in the decidedly more sci-fi hinged outer-space adventure Moonraker. The actor was gracious enough to attribute part of the character’s success to his 007 co-star.
“Roger Moore helped make Jaws a huge success due to his adlibs,” Kiel said. “When I’m chasing him and Lois Chiles [Holly Goodhead] on the tram in Rio de Janeiro and she asks ‘Who’s that?” Roger says ‘His name is Jaws’ and she says ‘Do you know him?’ and Roger says ‘Not socially!’ He completely added that line himself and made the character of Jaws really work.”
Back in June Kiel also reflected on the evolution of his iconic role to SciFiNow.
“I think the most difficult thing was making the character more human and interesting. He turned out to be kind of likeable and I didn’t expect that but I always wanted to make him well rounded. To me real villains are like real life; they have a mother, they have a girlfriend – they are real people. So I approached Jaws as a guy who was just doing his job.”
One of Kiel’s final roles was voicing the character of Vlad in the 2010 Disney animated film Tangled.
Incredibly friendly, modest and generous with his time to fans the world has lost a true original giant of the silver screen.