Richard Kiel, the 7-foot-tall actor who played villains, aliens and imposing sitcom characters, died September 10, three days shy of his 75th birthday.
He achieved stardom as the ominous killer Jaws opposite Roger Moore in two James Bond movies, The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979). Despite his prolific work in TV and low-budget movies he did not have a unique identity before then and complained that people were prone to confuse him with Ted Cassidy (Lurch on The Addams Family), Fred Gwynne or even Andre the Giant.
Prior to the Bond films his best role was in The Longest Yard (1974) as the football-playing prisoner who flattens a guard then cheerfully declares, “I think I broke his f***ing neck!” He also played one of Patrick McGoohan’s henchmen in Silver Streak (1976).
Between gigs Kiel worked as a nightclub bouncer, a cemetery plot salesman and a car salesman. LASFS member Charles Lee Jackson II knew Kiel in the Sixties when he worked at Star Lincoln Mercury in Glendale, CA. “He was a friendly, nice fellow who loved being recognized (in fact, he made many car sales that way – the dealer had glass walls and Dick was always visible).”
LASFSian Bill Warren met Kiel at a screening of Moonraker. “Kiel was in the lobby, as was Roger Moore, so I approached with a joke ready. ‘This is a long way from Eegah,’ I smirked. ‘Hell,’ said Kiel, ‘It’s a long way from The Human Duplicators!”
Eegah (1962) and the movie Kiel named in his response, The Human Duplicators (1965), were so notoriously awful that both appeared on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Kiel played the title character in Eegah, a giant caveman who somehow survived to the 20th Century. The movie bombed – its total box office take was $3,274 – and Michael Medved lists it as one of The Fifty Worst Films of All Time.
Nevertheless, The Human Duplicators was not bad enough to keep its makers from releasing it on VHS under the title Jaws of the Alien to cash in on Kiel’s notoriety from the James Bond movies.
Kiel’s TV work was divided between Westerns, fantasy and sitcoms. He played a Kanamit in the classic Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man”. He was in Gilligan’s Island, The Monkees and I Dream of Jeannie. He played Voltaire, an assistant to the evil scientist Dr. Miguelito Loveless in The Wild, Wild West. And his appearance in the William Shatner western series Barbary Coast convinced producers he was ideal for the role of Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me.
Kiel’s lesser-known talents included writing — he co-authored a biography of the abolitionist Cassius Marcellus Clay called Kentucky Lion.
He is survived by his wife, Diane, and their children and grandchildren.