Thursday, 11 September 2014

Richard Kiel RIP

Richard Kiel and Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me
Beau Maverick gets to grips with Richard Kiel

Richard Kiel obituary
Actor who played the terrifying villain's sidekick, Jaws, in two James Bond films, in which he used his steel teeth to chomp through electric cables – and human beings

Ryan Gilbey
The Guardian
Thursday 11 September 2014

The James Bond films could turn out magisterial villains well enough: Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Auric Goldfinger. But they were business-class bores compared to the grotesque sidekicks who got their hands dirty snapping necks, hurling bodies from planes and generally doing their masters' gruesome bidding. Oddjob, whose bowler-hat concealed a razor-sharp rim, and Rosa Klebb, who wore the sort of deadly shoes a woman couldn't find at any old Freeman Hardy Willis, set the standard high in the 1960s. But for any cinemagoer coming of age in the 70s, there was no competition for the title of Most Terrifying Bond Villain's Accomplice. It was Jaws, played by the actor Richard Kiel, who has died aged 74.

Jaws was distinguished by his height (Kiel was 7ft 1.5in) and by his gnarled steel teeth, which could chomp through padlocks, electrical cables and, on special occasions, human beings. He was also the only accomplice to appear in two Bond movies. It had been intended that he would die at the end of The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), and his death was even filmed, but positive audience reaction to his scenes ensured that he lived to bite another day.

He was employed on that first occasion by the dastardly Karl Stromberg, who hoped to trigger a nuclear apocalypse before starting a new underwater civilisation. But the balance of horror in the movie was skew-whiff: the third world war seemed like a picnic compared to being cornered at night by Jaws in an Egyptian catacomb, or trying to escape in a clapped-out van while he tore through the bodywork as easily as if it were flatbread.

Hugo Drax, the villain in Moonraker (1979), must have been alerted to Jaws's sterling work in the areas of looming, menacing and murdering when he began casting around for his own henchman – for here was Jaws popping up to try to finish Bond off in a thrilling confrontation on top of a cable car.

Kiel, who had played a thug with gold teeth only a year before The Spy Who Loved Me, in the 1976 Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor comedy-thriller Silver Streak, had been unenthusiastic initially about the role, for which David Prowse (Darth Vader in the Star Wars films) was also in the running. "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' ... I said if I were to play the part, I want to give the character some human characteristics, like perseverance, frustration." He brought even more than that. By the end of Moonraker, he had persuaded us not only that Jaws could renounce his psychotic ways, but also that he could find love, with a tiny blonde girl sporting Pippi Longstocking plaits.

Kiel was born in Detroit, Michigan. He was blind in one eye and also had the hormonal condition acromegaly, which causes excess growth hormones to be produced. He claimed not to have harboured any youthful ambitions to be an actor. Among his early jobs were cemetery plot salesman and nightclub bouncer. Even once he moved to California and began taking acting roles, he supplemented his erratic income by working as a night-school maths teacher.

His earliest acting roles were in the western series Klondike (1960) and Laramie (1961). Other television work followed in series including Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Wild Wild West and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. He also appeared in small and sometimes uncredited parts in films, but attracted attention in Robert Aldrich's 1974 prison comedy-drama The Longest Yard (released in the UK as The Mean Machine) starring Burt Reynolds.

He played the title role in two 1977 television pilot episodes of The Incredible Hulk, but was replaced by the bulkier Lou Ferrigno when it was decided that girth rather than height was the order of the day. Following his success as Jaws, he enjoyed a run of parts as assorted heavies. He cited as a personal favourite his role as a good guy gone bad in the belated Guns of Navarone sequel, Force 10 from Navarone (1978). He was also a loan shark chasing Ryan O'Neal, who played the inventor of a pair of buttockless jeans, in the screwball comedy So Fine (1981)".

Aside from his voice performance in the 2010 Disney film Tangled, Kiel's most high-profile work outside the Bond movies was in Clint Eastwood's western Pale Rider (1985) and in the Adam Sandler comedy Happy Gilmore (1996). In the latter, he walked with a cane, having had his balance affected adversely in a car accident in 1992.

Though Kiel was known largely for acting, he co-wrote and produced the 1991 family film The Giant of Thunder Mountain, and starred in it alongside Hollywood's go-to grizzly, Bart the Bear.

Kiel is survived by his second wife, Diane (nee Rogers), whom he married in 1974, and their four children.

• Richard Kiel, actor, born 13 September 1939; died 10 September 2014

Richard Kiel at the Interteen Fair with The Beach Boys at Burbank, April 1963. The other tall guy is 7' 3"" actor William Engessor. Carl Wilson is standing behind Kiel, looking at Brian, the top of whose head is emerging from Kiel's neck; Mike and Dennis are checking out the regular-sized chicks; David Marks is at Carl's right - that is, left as you look at the picture..

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