Actor Yaphet Kotto has died at the age of 81. Kotto has played a number of film and television roles, including a Bond villain in Live And Let Die and a police lieutenant in Homicide: Live On The Streets.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Actor Yaphet Kotto has died. Kotto is perhaps best known for playing Lieutenant Al Giardello on NBC’s “Homicide: Life On The Street.” In a career spanning more than four decades, he also played a James Bond villain, a space engineer, an alien and an FBI agent alongside Robert De Niro. Kotto died on Monday. He was 81 years old. Elizabeth Blair of NPR has that appreciation.
ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Yaphet Kotto could be intimidating in one scene and bewitching in the next. In the 1976 television film “Raid On Entebbe,” he did both as the brutal but charismatic dictator Idi Amin.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “RAID ON ENTEBBE”)
YAPHET KOTTO: (as Idi Amin) Think of Uganda as your home (laughter).
BLAIR: In Murder: Life on the Street, Kotto’s police lieutenant is both compassionate and impressive.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE TV SHOW “HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET”)
KOTTO: (as Al Giardello) We could have turned the shooter and found out what this case was really about. Instead, your ham-fisted friends in the office caught her and then killed her.
BLAIR: Kotto received four NAACP Image Award nominations for the NBC series. Kotto was born in New York City. He knew he wanted to be an actor when he was 16 when he saw Marlon Brando on On The Waterfront. Three years later he played Othello on the stage. In a 1980 interview with NPR, Kotto said he tried to avoid stereotypes when choosing roles.
(SOUNDBITE FROM ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
KOTTO: I tried to remove my career and personality from what I consider to be a stigma of blackness and ethnicity (ph) and everything else.
BLAIR: Kotto plays Parker in the movie “Alien” and often seems to be one step ahead of everyone else.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “ALIEN”)
KOTTO: (as Parker) It has a wonderful defense mechanism. You don’t dare kill it.
BLAIR: At a celebration of the film at the Toronto International Film Festival, Kotto recalled hearing about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had attended “I Have a Dream” in Washington, wondering if his own dreams would ever come true. Years later, he took one of his children to the place where he saw Dr. King had been watching. Suddenly a group of Japanese tourists ran up to him.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
KOTTO: You all said one word – alien.
KOTTO: And at that moment it was so scary because I had noticed that the dream had come true.
BLAIR: When he announced Yaphet Kotto’s death, his wife writes, you played a villain in some of your films, but to me you are a real hero.
Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.
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