We regret to bring your the news that actor Richard Kiel passed away yesterday afternoon, just a few days short of what would have been his 75th birthday. Kiel reportedly broke his leg last week and was recently in a hospital in Fresno, California. According to his talent agent Steven Stevens, who had worked with Kiel for over 35 years, the actor – whom, in his official statement, Stevens called “a great family man and… a great friend” – ultimately died as a result of “natural causes.”
Kiel’s family released the following statement, via the late actor’s Facebook page:
“It is with heavy hearts that we announce that Richard has passed away, just three days shy of his 75th birthday. Richard had an amazing joy for life and managed to live every single day to the fullest. Though most people knew of him through his screen persona, those who were close to him knew what a kind and generous soul he was. His family was the most important thing in his life and we are happy that his last days were spend surrounded by family and close friends. Though his passing was somewhat unexpected, his health had been declining in recent years. It is nice to think that he can, once again, stand tall over us all.”
Kiel, born Richard Dawson Kiel in Detroit, Michigan in 1939, was around 7′ 2” tall, and his massive size served him well during some of his early jobs in life (including, his time as a nightclub bouncer), before it later assisted him during his professional acting career – something that began in 1960, with his earliest roles including an uncredited turn as “Tolan’s helper” on an episode of Laramie. A couple years later, Kiel played the alien Kanamit on the famous Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man”, and he starred in the camp classic B-movie Eegah, where he portrayed the eponymous caveman.
During the 1960s, Kiel made appearances on a number of the decade’s more famous TV shows, including Lassie, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Gilligan’s Island, The Monkees, The Wild Wild West (where he played Voltaire/Dimas), and I Dream of Jeannie. Jeannie star Barbara Eden is among Kiel’s former costars who have openly paid their respects to the actor, having posted a picture of herself alongside Kiel on the Jeannie set on her Twitter account, accompanied by the comment “Many fond memories of Richard Kiel, sweet man & gentle giant. My thoughts & prayers to his family & friends.”
Kiel continue to work on a variety of popular television series in the 1970s, further cementing his status as a fan-favorite with his roles on such programs as Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Colors, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Barbary Coast (where he costarred as Moose Moran for 14 episodes), Starsky and Hutch, Land of the Lost, and a single-scene appearance as The Hulk on the Incredible Hulk TV show.
Meanwhile, on the film side during that decade, Kiel appeared in titles like The Longest Yard, before he played what is generally considered his most iconic role, as the villainous Jaws in the Roger Moore-era James Bond films The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker – a role that Kiel would reprise a couple decades later, when he both voiced and supplied the likeness for Jaws in the video game James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing in the early 2000s. Other noteworthy movie roles taken on by Kiel around that same time as his 007 films include his turn as Drazak from 1978’s Force 10 from Navarone.
Kiel kept on appearing in an eclectic assortment of TV series and movies through throughout the 1980s, with appearance in films like Hysterical, Cannonball Run II, and Think Big, along with roles on the television shows The Fall Guy, Simon & Simon, and Out of This World. He slowed down over the course of the 1990s and 2000s, though Kiel still made a handful of notable onscreen appearances – like his role as Mr. Larson in Happy Gilmore and when he riffed on his Jaws image in the live-action Inspector Gadget movie, before (a decade later) lending his voice to Disney’s animated feature Tangled.
We wish Richard Kiel’s family and friends strength and support in their time of loss, even while his many, many fans mourn the loss of a beloved actor who (for over fifty years) cast a large shadow in more ways than one.
R.I.P. Richard Dawson Kiel: September 13th, 1939 – September 10th, 2014.
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