Yaphet Kotto, an appreciation

Yaphet Kotto in Live And Let Die

Early in his career, Yaphet Kotto (1939-2021) was working as an actor when “Old Hollywood” was holding on for dear life.

For example, he appeared in 5 Card Stud, a 1968 western starring Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum. It was produced by Hal Wallis, born in 1900 and as “Old Hollywood” as you could get. His credits included Casablanca as well as Martin and Lewis comedies. And this movie came out before the Wallis-produced True Grit.

Nevertheless, Kotto, not yet 30, more than held his own with his established fellow actors. Kotto’s character is killed but in his dying moments provides the clue needed to track down his killer.

Hollywood was about to change. And Yaphet Kotto would be part of the change.

Kotto made an impact, whether in films or on television shows. As news of his passing circulated, the actor was subject of numerous tributes on social media.

He was one of the most memorable villains in the James Bond film series. Kotto was Bond’s first Black primary adversary in Live And Let Die (1973). His Dr. Kananga led a double life, as the leader of a Caribbean nation who moonlights as an American criminal.

In his two identities, Kotto projected different personalities. Kananga was the seemingly dignified head of government for San Monique. Mr. Big was the street criminal.

It’s not until the second half of the movie, the audience gets to see Kananga’s true self. Kotto gets one of the best “villain speeches” in the series. He explains his plan is to provide free samples of heroin until the number of addicts in the U.S. has doubled.

Roger Moore, making his Bond debut, asks if that won’t upset certain “families” (i.e. the Mafia).

Kotto seizes the set-up line and runs with it.

He says those families will be driven out of their minds and “subsequently out of the business, leaving me and the telephone company as the only growing monopolies in this country for years to come.” Kotto’s delivery makes an impact.

Kotto had a long career. His IMDB.COM entry lists more than 90 credits. He appeared in a variety of genres, everything from science fiction to gritty crime dramas.

Among those paying tribute to Kotto were two film directors:

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