Yaphet Kotto was an American actor, known for numerous film roles (including the science-fiction/horror film Alien, the science-fiction/action film The Running Man and as a James Bond villain in Live and Let Die), and his starring role as Lieutenant Al Giardello in the NBC television series Homicide: Life on the Street (1993-2000).
Alien franchise credit
- 4 for Texas (1963) - Undetermined Minor Role
- Nothing But a Man (1964) - Jocko
- 5 Card Stud (1968) - Little George (Mama's bartender)
- The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) - Carl
- The Liberation of L.B. Jones (1970) - Sonny Boy Mosby
- Across 110th Street (1972) - Lt. Pope
- Live and Let Die (1973) - Kananga/Mr. Big
- Truck Turner (1974) - Harvard Blue
- Report to the Commissioner (1975) - Richard 'Crunch' Blackstone
- Sharks' Treasure (1975) - Ben Flynn
- Friday Foster (1975) - Colt Hawkins
- Drum (1976) - Blaise
- Monkey Hustle (1976) - C.C. Foxx
- Raid on Entebbe (1977) - President Idi Amin Dada
- Blue Collar (1978) - Smokey James
- Alien (1979) - Parker
- Brubaker (1980) - Richard 'Dickie' Coombes
- The Star Chamber (1983) - Det. Harry Lowes
- Warning Sign (1985) - Major Connolly
- Eye of the Tiger (1986) - J. B. Deveraux
- The Park is Mine (1986) - Eubanks
- The Running Man (1987) - William Laughlin
- Midnight Run (1988) - FBI Agent Alonzo Mosely
Kotto was born in New York City, the son of Gladys Marie, a nurse and army officer, and Avraham Kotto (originally named Njoki Manga Bell), a businessman from Cameroon. In his autobiography titled Royalty, Kotto writes that his father was "the crown prince of Cameroon". Kotto stated that he found out that his family was royal in adult life while studying his family's lineage, and also stated that he is a descendant of Queen Victoria. Kotto's father, who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1920s, was, according to Kotto, an observant Jew who spoke Hebrew, and Kotto's mother reportedly converted to Judaism before marrying his father. Kotto also stated that his great-grandfather King Alexander Bell ruled the Douala region of Cameroon in the late 19th century and was also a practicing Jew. Kotto has said that his paternal family originated from Israel and migrated to Egypt and then Cameroon, and have been African Jews for many generations. His claim of being a descendent of Queen Victoria has been denied by the Buckingham Palace press office.
Being black and Jewish gave other children (both whites and blacks) even more reason, he has said, to pick on him growing up in New York City. "It was rough coming up," Kotto said. "And then going to shul, putting a yarmulke on, having to face people who were primarily Baptists in the Bronx meant that on Fridays, I was in some heavy fistfights".
By the age of 16, he was studying acting at the Actor's Mobile Theater Studio, and at 19, he made his professional acting debut in Othello. He also was a member of the Actors Studio in New York. Kotto got his start in acting on Broadway, where he appeared in The Great White Hope, among other productions.
His film debut was in 1963 in an uncredited role in 4 For Texas. He performed in Michael Roemer's Nothing But a Man in 1964 and played a supporting role in the 1968 caper film The Thomas Crown Affair. He played John Auston, a confused Marine Lance Corporal, in the 1968 episode "King Of The Hill" on the first season of Hawaii Five-O. In 1973 he landed the role of the James Bond villain Mr. Big in Live and Let Die, as well as roles in Across 110th Street and Truck Turner. Kotto portrayed Idi Amin in the 1977 television film Raid on Entebbe. He also starred as an auto worker in the 1978 film Blue Collar.
The following year he played Parker in the sci-fi–horror film Alien. He followed with a supporting role in the 1980 prison drama Brubaker. In 1983, he guest-starred as mobster "Charlie" in the A-Team episode "The Out-of-Towners". In 1987, he appeared in the futuristic sci-fi movie The Running Man and in the 1988 action-comedy Midnight Run, in which he portrayed Alonzo Mosely, an FBI agent.
Kotto's first marriage was to a German immigrant, Rita Ingrid Dittman, whom he married in 1959. They had three children together before divorcing in 1976. Later, Kotto married Toni Pettyjohn, and they also had three children together, before divorcing in 1989. Kotto married his third wife, Tessie Sinahon, who is from the Philippines, in 1998.
Yaphet Kotto passed away on March 15, 2021 near Manila, Philippines at the age of 81.