Yaphet Kotto


Trailblazing actor Yaphet Kotto has died aged 81. He played the formidable Bond villain Dr Kananga in Live and Let Die, a loose expy of real life dictator Duvalier, and remains the only black actor to play the main villain in the series. (The only Bond villain with the common sense approach of just trying to have Bond shot on the spot instead of waiting for him to hear plans and make a big escape!) Live and Let Die does spoof on blaxploitation films of the day, so has dated in many regards, and yet as a direct result has many strong non-white roles in the story, so somehow manages to be dated and ahead of its time simultaneously. This feels apt for Kotto, an actor who simultaneously broke down barriers while being accused of deferring to them at the same time. His view, and it can be viewed that history has vindicated it, was that he wanted the ability to play any role in a film, without it being the black character role, or having to be a pure Saint, which he viewed as being as much segregation as what went before. Kotto revelled in villains and shades of grey roles and heroes with equal aplomb, and it was in these footsteps that modern greats like Samuel L Jackson and Denzel Washington (who won his Oscar for a role Yaphet Kotto would have loved) followed.

He also starred in the classic SF horror Alien, and confounded stereotypes by making it near the end of the film. (Worried fans of Veronica Cartwright will note the human cast appear to be dying in the same order as the characters in the directors cut…) Other roles included Across 110th Street (if the Bobby Womack classic isn’t in your head right now, you haven’t heard it yet), Midnight Run and The Thomas Crown Affair. He however turned down the role of Captain Picard in Star Trek, a decision he was later to regret. He was a unique pick for theme team No Mr Bond Villain I Expect You to Die. Which he has.

Yaphet Kotto
15 November 1939 – 15 March 2021