Yaphet Kotto, the iconic villain of James Bond classic "Live and Let Die" and star of stage and screen, has died at 81, his wife announced in a Facebook post, and later confirmed by his agent, Ryan Goldhar.
"You played a villain on some of your movies but for me you're a real hero and to a lot of people also," his wife Tessie Sinahon wrote in an emotional Facebook post. "A good man, a good father, a good husband and a decent human being, very rare to find."
Raised in the Bronx and a descendent of Cameroonian royalty on his father’s side, Kotto was known for his commanding presence in films, TV shows, and Broadway in a career spanning over four decades.
Kotto is best known for his roles of villain Dr. Kananga / Mr. Big in the Bond film "Live and Let Die," as well as co-starring with Robert de Niro in "Midnight Run," technician Dennis Parker in "Alien," and his Emmy nominated role playing Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the 1977 television movie "Raid on Entebbe."
"He’s one of those actors who deserved more than the parts he got," visionary director Ava DuVernay wrote on Twitter. "But he took those parts and made them wonderful all the same. A star."
Kotto is also well-known for his leading role in "Homicide: Life on the Street," where he played Baltimore police lieutenant Al Giardello in the long-running television series.
"Memories and respect for Yaphet Kotto, whose film career was legend even before he came to Baltimore to grace our television drama," wrote David Simon, creator of "The Wire" who was a "Homicide" writer and producer. "But for me, he'll always be Al Giardello, the unlikeliest Sicilian, gently pulling down the office blinds to glower at detectives in his squadroom."
Kotto also co-starred in the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger action film “The Running Man” and played Al Giardello from 1993 to 1999 on the NBC series “Homicide: Life on the Street.”
Kotto sometimes struggled with being typecast as a detective, and he lamented how many of his characters died in the end.
“I’m always called powerful, bulky or imposing,” Kotto told the Baltimore Sun in 1993. “Or they say I fill up a room. I’m a 200-pound, 6-foot-3-inch Black guy. And I think I have this image of a monster. It’s very difficult.”
“I want to try to play a much more sensitive man. A family man,” he added. “There is an aspect of Black people’s lives that is not running or jumping.”
Kotto is survived by his wife and six children.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.