Skip navigation

Actor Yaphet Kotto

A quick shout out goes to storied actor Yaphet Kotto, who passed away yesterday at age 81. Kotto made dozens of notable film, television, and stage appearances over several decades, the most widely known likely being his roles in Alien and the James Bond film Live and Let Die. For me his most enduring character (of the ones I’ve caught) was as Baltimore police lieutenant Al “Gee” Giardello in the nineties ensemble drama, Homicide: Life on the Street, described at the time as “the best damn show on television,” and for good reason. Kotto had so many worthwhile quips and performances in this show that it’s hard to single out any one of them. With an imposing physical presence and a disposition that could range from happy-hour affable to angry beyond words, he was the leader of the crack team of detectives who eked out a living doing the thankless task of solving murders in an underfunded, crime-and-corruption-ridden city. H:LotS was an early influence on my dramatic sensibilities, at least a few years before I’d get to see films by the likes of Cassavetes and other notable “actor’s directors” such as Bergman and Fassbinder. The show’s creators and players were unusually skilled at crafting and then bringing to life idiosyncratic but believable dialog, especially during moments of the detectives’ downtime. Kotto brought it, for seven seasons, and the show wouldn’t have been the same without him. And among the many other credits in his filmography, he had a supporting role in Malcolm X’s favorite movie, Nothing But A Man, and a hilarious role as himself, a distinguished black actor failing to flag down a cab (while a white ex-con had no problem!), in the pilot episode of Michael Moore’s show TV Nation. He will be missed.

%d bloggers like this: