Richard Kiel has died at the age of 74. As Bond fans and most of the world will forever know Kiel as the towering henchman with metal teeth by the name of Jaws. It was his most popular role and cemented his status as one of the most unforgettable characters in the 007 series.
Kiel had made many film and television appearances. His distinctive look was hard to miss and certainly made him stand out in a movie. I would probably say my other favorite role he did besides Jaws was as the alien in the classic Twilight Zone episode To Serve Man. What a great episode that is.
It’s Jaws that everyone will remember and who will be Kiel’s cinematic legacy. It’s not surprising as to why. Being a major part of one of the most popular and beloved James Bond films will surely make an impact on moviegoers. And being one of the most famous henchman ever – and not just in Bond films, but films altogether – is sure to guarantee that you won’t be forgotten.
What’s so funny about the character of Jaws is how unbelievably popular he was when he showed up in 1977’s The Spy Who Love Me. Let’s remember at the time Bond wasn’t setting the world on fire like it had been a decade earlier. The films were still trying to recover from the absence of Sean Connery, Roger Moore was still trying to get accepted as the new 007 and the behind the scenes drama of Harry Saltzman leaving his partnership with Cubby Broccoli created a lot of tension and uncertainty with the series.
Bond would be absent from movie screens for three years as the film would become a massive production. Fortunately it all worked out. Spy would become one of the most popular 007 adventures ever, set the tone for Moore’s tenure as Bond and bring one of 007’s most memorable henchman ever to the screen.
The fact that Kiel’s Jaws was so beloved that the filmmakers brought him back for an encore in Moonraker in 1979 is a testament of the wide appeal of the character. Luckily, he didn’t get killed off in Spy and the response by young fans was that not only did they want to see him again, but they wanted him to become a good guy! And that’s exactly what happened when we saw him again.
Could you imagine this happening today? Young Bond fans having such an overwhelming positive response to a Bond baddie, demanding he come back for more appearances and the filmmakers actually doing it! No way. Some fans might complain the newer Bond films aren’t ‘fun’ like they used to be. But both The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker were designed to be exactly that – fun. And those young Bond fans got exactly what they wanted.
Even if a henchman was allowed to survive a Bond movie today, it’s extremely unlikely the producers would have him become a recurring adversary. And even if they let him come back, they certainly wouldn’t give him a change of heart, start helping Bond out and end up giving him his own buxom babe to sip champagne with in the end! That would turn the Craig films on its head!
It was sad to hear that Kiel died. I had seen him acouple times at conventions through the years and had always heard from people that he was genuinely a really nice guy. I was even able to work on a batch of commercials he appeared in as the spokesperson for a spy store. That was a real kick!
My autographed Kiel picture will be more special to me now knowing he’s gone.