Clifton James, a character actor whose career extended more than 60 years but perhaps best known as a redneck sheriff in two 007 films, has died at 96, according to an obituary by The Associated Press.
James embodied a 1970s shift in James Bond films to a lighter, more comedic tone. He played Sheriff J.W. Pepper, a Louisiana lawman who was comic relief in 1973’s Live And Let Die and 1974’s The Man With The Golden Gun.
“What are you, some kind of doomsday machine, boy?” James’ Pepper says, emerging from a wrecked police car and confronting Roger Moore’s James Bond following that film’s massive boat chase sequence.
J.W. Pepper was created by screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz. In the documentary Inside Live And Let Die, the scribe said he didn’t want the audience laughing at the African American villains in the film.
Clifton James as J.W. Pepper fit the bill. James said in the documentary he wore padding to make himself look heavier.
The character was brought back for Golden Gun. In one January 1974 draft, by 007 veteran Richard Maibaum (who took over for Mankiewicz), Pepper only had a small appearance.
Somewhere along the way, things changed. In the final film, Pepper accompanies Bond on a car chase. The sheriff at one point is leaning out a car window, yelling at other drivers. (The Maibaum draft had a Thai character simply called “Prospective Buyer” ride with Bond.)
James, however, was far more than J.W. Pepper. He easily made a convincing villain in various television series. He also played cheapskate Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey in Eight Men Out , a drama about the scandal when the baseball team threw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.
James’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 100 acting credits from 1954 to 2017.
UPDATE (6:05 p.m., New York time): Roger Moore took to Twitter to note the death of Clifton James.
Terribly sad to hear Clifton James has left us. As JW Pepper he gave my first two Bond films a great, fun character.
— Sir Roger Moore (@sirrogermoore) April 15, 2017
UPDATE II (April 16): The official James Bond Twitter feed published a post about the actor’s passing.
We are very sad to hear that Clifton James has died at the age of 96. Our thoughts are with his family. pic.twitter.com/TnpK0gtg0Z
— James Bond (@007) April 16, 2017