NEW YORK — Richard Kiel, the actor best known for playing the James Bond villain “Jaws,” died Wednesday at a Fresno, California hospital, St. Agnes Medical Center spokeswoman Kelley Sanchez said.
The cause of death for the 74-year-old actor has not been released.
The 7-foot-2-inch Kiel, who was born in Detroit in 1939, won over audiences worldwide in the 1970s as the steel-toothed character Jaws in the Roger Moore Bond classics “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker.”
“I am totally distraught to learn of my dear friend Richard Kiel’s passing. We were on a radio programme together just a week ago. Distraught,” Moore tweeted early Thursday.
Kiel appeared in a handful of B-movies and of TV shows — including four episodes of “The Wild Wild West” in 1965 — in supporting, henchman roles that took advantage of his intimidating height. He first appeared as a metal-mouthed bad guy in “Silver Streak,” the 1976 Gene Wilder-Richard Pryor train caper, but it was the Bond movies that made him most familiar to moviegoers.
Kiel first encountered Moore’s James Bond in 1977’s “The Spy Who Loved Me,” where his silent hitman Jaws repeatedly menaced Bond with his sharp metal teeth. Although repeatedly thwarted by the British spy, Jaws proved resilient and even sort of likable: Near the movie’s end he survived a brush with a killer shark by biting the creature.
Jaws was such a popular character that the producers of the Bond series brought him back two years later for “Moonraker,” which was set partly in space. He and Bond battled each other in a opening skydiving sequence and in a memorable scene atop an aerial tram in Rio de Janeiro. Later, Jaws switched allegiances to Bond upon learning that his employer, the villain Drax, planned to exterminate him.
In later years, Kiel turned his hand to writing and producing as well as acting, including in the 1991 movie “The Giant of Thunder Mountain,” according to the IMDB.
Kiel’s family posted this message on Facebook late Wednesday:
“It is with very heavy hearts that we announce that Richard has passed away, just three days shy of his 75th birthday. Richard had an amazing joy for life and managed to live every single day to the fullest. Though most people knew of him through his screen persona, those who were close to him knew what a kind and generous soul he was.
“His family was the most important thing in his life and we are happy that his last days were spent surrounded by family and close friends. Though his passing was somewhat unexpected, his health had been declining in recent years. It is nice to think that he can, once again, stand tall over us all.”