Thursday, September 11, 2014

Godspeed Richard Kiel

Michael Dunn as Dr. Miguelito Loveless and
Richard Kiel as Voltaire

Richard Kiel, the 7 foot 1.5 inches tall actor who played Voltaire on The Wild Wild West, Moose Moran on Barbary Coast, and Jaws in two James Bond movies, died yesterday at the age of 74.

Richard Kiel was born on 13 September 1939 in Detroit, Michigan. He had the condition known as acromegaly, which resulted in his enormous height. By the time he was 14 he was 6 foot seven inches tall. As an adult he stood an incredible seven foot 1.5 inches tall. Before entering acting he worked as a nightclub bouncer and sold cemetery plots. Mr. Kiel's approach as a bouncer was singular. Rather than use his enormous size to intimidate nightclub patrons, he used his natural jovialness and friendliness to keep them in line.

Mr. Kiel's height eventually led him to a career in acting. He made his television debut in a 1960 episode of the TV show Klondike. The Sixties would see Richard Kiel appear in one of his best known roles He played Dr. Miguelito Loveless's muscle, Voltaire, in the first season of The Wild Wild West. He also made a notable guest appearances on The Monkees (in the episode "I Was a Teen Age Monster", playing the Monster of the title) and The Twilight Zone (playing a Kanamit in the classic episode "To Serve Man").  He also guest starred on such TV shows as Thriller, Laramie, The Rifleman, Lassie, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I Dream of Jeannie, Honey West, My Mother the Car, Gilligan's Island, I Spy, and Daniel Boone.

In the Sixties Richard Kiel also played the title character in the B-movie and cult film Eegah (1962). He made his film debut in The Phantom Planet in 1961. Throughout the Sixties he appeared in such films as House of the Damned (1963), The Nutty Professor (1963), Roustabout (1964), Two on a Guillotine (1965), The Human Duplicators (1965), Brainstorm (1965), The Las Vegas Hillbillys (1966), Skidoo (1968), and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970).

In the Seventies Richard Kiel played what might be his best known role, that of the assassin Jaws in the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). The character proved so popular that he made another appearance in the following James Bond film, Moonraker (1979). Mr. Kiel also played Samson in The Longest Yard (1974) and Reace in Silver Streak (1976). He also appeared in such films as Deadhead Miles (1973), Flash and the Firecat (1976), Gus (1976), Force 10 from Navarone (1978), They Went That-A-Way & That-A-Way (1978), and  L'umanoide (1979). He starred as Moose Moran on the TV show Barbary Coast. He guest starred on such shows as Emergency!, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Switch, Starsky and Hutch, and McMillan & Wife.

In the Eighties Richard Kiel appeared in such films as So Fine (1981), Hysterical (1983), Phoenix (1983), Cannonball Run II (1984), Pale Rider (1985), The Princess and the Dwarf (1989), and Think Big (1989). He guest starred on such shows as The Fall Guy, Simon & Simon, Out of This World, and Superboy.

In the Nineties Mr. Kiel wrote, produced, and starred in The Giant of Thunder Mountain (1991). He also appeared in the films Happy Gilmore (1996) and Inspector Gadget (1999). In the Naughts he provided the voice of Jaws in the video game James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing and the voice of Vlad in the animated feature Tangled (2010).

Because of his extreme height Richard Kiel played many menacing characters over the years, but he was a very talented actor who could play many other types of roles. Indeed, he had a gift for comedy, a gift that was displayed even when he was playing characters who might otherwise seem threatening. The perfect example of this can be seen in his guest shot on The Monkees, in which he plays a Frankensteinian monster into whom the collective talent of The Monkees is transferred. Mr. Kiel's timing was perfect, and he delivered his lines perfectly ("Groovy man, that's not my bag. Don't get uptight..."). And while many in Generation X might remember Mr. Kiel best as Jaws in the James Bond movies or Voltaire on The Wild Wild West, younger generations might remember him best as Mr. Larson, Happy's former boss in the film Happy Gilmore. Mr. Larson was easily the funniest character in the whole film.

Of course, most of Richard Kiel's roles were of the tall, menacing type, and he did excel in these roles. For me the most prominent of these roles was not Jaws, but Voltaire, Dr. Miguelito Loveless's assistant on The Wild Wild West. Voltaire was superhuman in strength and could be extremely brutal, but at the same time it was clear Voltaire was extremely loyal to Dr. Loveless (played by the great Michael Dunn) and that he cared for both Dr. Loveless and Loveless's femme fatale Antoinette (Phoebe Dorin). Unlike many gigantic henchmen in the spy shows of the era, Voltaire seemed very human, something that was due to Richard Kiel's talent as an actor.

Beyond being a talented actor, it must also be pointed out that from all reports Richard Kiel was a very nice man. He was often described as a "gentle giant". Mr. Kiel's co-stars, from Sir Roger Moore to Barbara Eden to Adam Sanadler, described him with such terms as "sweet", "kind", and "nice". He was known for his sense of humour and his generosity. It was Richard Kiel's height that made him a big man and his talent that made him a great actor, but, most important of all, he was a truly kind and sweet man as well.

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