Yaphet Kotto, Star of “Alien” and “Homicide: Life on the Street,” Dead at 81

His multi-decade career also included a villainous role in a James Bond film

Yaphet Kotto attends NBC Television Affiliates Party on July 15, 1989 at Century Plaza Hotel in Century City, CA
Yaphet Kotto at the NBC Television Affiliates Party in 1989
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Yaphet Kotto, best known for his disparate and memorable roles in Alien, Homicide: Life on the Street and Live and Let Die, passed away on Sunday night. He was 81.

The news was announced by his widow Sinahon Thessa on Facebook. “You played a villain on some of your movies but for me you’re a real hero and to a lot of people also,” she wrote. “A good man, a good father, a good husband and a decent human being, very rare to find.” Kotto is survived by six children.

As noted by BBC, Kotto was born in New York to a Cameroonian immigrant father and a U.S. Army nurse. He began studying acting from the age of 16 and made his professional theater debut at 19.

Actors Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Julius W.Harris and actress Jane Seymour, on the set of "Live And Let Die".
Actors Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Julius W.Harris and actress Jane Seymour, on the set of “Live And Let Die.”
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

In his career that spanned seven decades, Kotto starred in The Thomas Crown Affair, Truck Turner, The Running Man, Midnight Run, Brubaker and Freddy’s Dead. He also famously turned down roles in The Empire Strikes Back and the lead in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

For this writer, Kotto will always be remembered as Parker, the gregarious, tough but doomed engineer on board the Nostromo in Alien.

Filmmaker Edgar Wright summed up Kotto’s career nicely. He tweeted: “RIP Yaphet Kotto, a brilliant magnetic presence, bringing gravitas & naturalism to deep space or underground Bond lair. So memorable as Parker in Alien, Kananga (Mr Big) in Live & Let Die, Smokey James in Blue Collar or in the simmering funny rage of Midnight Run‘s Alonzo Mosely.”

Two years ago InsideHook interviewed Kotto. We asked him what he would want on his tombstone. “I don’t even think about that,” he said at first, but later added, “Maybe someday someone will write something nice about me — one of my kids or something. Who knows? The end has to come as if you thought you were awake and now you’re asleep, because you’re just going to switch from this world into the afterworld, and the afterworld is very much like this world. You can’t tell which one is different, because they look the same, only one is brighter.”

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