Yaphet Kotto
Kotto in 1995
Frederick Samuel Kotto[1]

(1939-11-15)November 15, 1939
DiedMarch 15, 2021(2021-03-15) (aged 81)
Years active1963–2014
Height6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)[2]
Rita Ingried[1] Dittman
(m. 1959; div. 1976)
Toni Pettyjohn
(m. 1975; div. 1989)
Tessie Sinahon
(m. 1998)

Yaphet Frederick Kotto (November 15, 1939 – March 15, 2021) was an American actor for film and television. He starred in the NBC television series Homicide: Life on the Street (1993–1999) as Lieutenant Al Giardello. His films include the science-fiction horror film Alien (1979), the science-fiction action film The Running Man (1987), the James Bond film Live and Let Die (1973), in which he portrayed the main villain Dr. Kananga, and the action comedy Midnight Run (1988) opposite Robert De Niro.

Early life

Kotto was born in New York City.[4] His mother, Gladys Marie, was an American nurse and U.S. Army officer of Panamanian and West Indian descent. His father, Avraham Kotto (who was, according to his son, originally named Njoki Manga Bell), was a businessman from Cameroon who emigrated to the United States in the 1920s.[4] Kotto's father was raised Jewish and his mother converted to Judaism. The couple separated when Kotto was a child, and he was raised by his maternal grandparents.[5][6][7][8]


By the age of 16, Kotto was studying acting at the Actors Mobile Theater Studio, and at 19, he made his professional acting debut in Othello. He 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.[9]

His film debut was in 1963, aged 23, in an uncredited role in 4 for Texas.[10] He performed in Michael Roemer's Nothing but a Man (1964) and played a supporting role in the caper film The Thomas Crown Affair (1968).[11] 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.[12]

In 1967, he released a single, "Have You Ever Seen the Blues" / "Have You Dug His Scene" (Chisa Records, CH006).[13]

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. He played a police officer, Richard "Crunch" Blackstone, in the 1975 film Report to the Commissioner. Kotto portrayed Idi Amin in the 1977 television film Raid on Entebbe. He starred as an auto worker in the 1978 film Blue Collar. The following year he played Parker in the sci-fihorror film Alien. He followed with a supporting role in the 1980 prison drama Brubaker. In 1983, he guest-starred as mobster Charlie "East Side Charlie" Struthers in The A-Team episode "The Out-of-Towners". In 1987, he appeared in the futuristic sci-fi movie The Running Man, and in 1988, in the action-comedy Midnight Run, in which he portrayed Alonzo Moseley, an FBI agent. A memo from Paramount indicates that Kotto was among those being considered for Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, a role which eventually went to Patrick Stewart.[14]

Kotto acting alongside Leif Erickson in the television series The High Chaparral in 1968

Kotto was cast as a religious man living in the southwestern desert country in the 1967 episode "A Man Called Abraham" on the syndicated anthology series Death Valley Days, hosted by Robert Taylor. In the story line, Abraham convinces a killer named Cassidy (Rayford Barnes) that Cassidy can change his heart despite past crimes. When Cassidy is sent to the gallows, Abraham provides spiritual solace. Bing Russell also appeared in this segment.[15]

Kotto retired from film acting in the mid-1990s, though he had one final film role in Witless Protection (2008).[16] However, he continued to take on television roles. Kotto portrayed Lieutenant Al Giardello in the long-running television series Homicide: Life on the Street. As a black Sicilian proud of his Italian ancestry, the character was a breakout for television.[citation needed] He has written the book Royalty and also wrote scripts for Homicide. In 2014, he voiced Parker for the video game Alien: Isolation, reprising the role he played in the movie Alien in 1979.[17]

Personal life and death

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,[5] in 1998.[16]

Kotto was versed in the Hebrew liturgy and incorporated Jewish prayers at turning points throughout his life.[18] He said his father "instilled Judaism" in him.[16]

Kotto supported Donald Trump in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. He also expressed support for Black Lives Matter and QAnon.[19]

In 2000, he was living in Marmora, Ontario, Canada.[20]

He died at the age of 81 on March 15, 2021, near Manila, Philippines. His wife announced the news on Facebook.[21][22]



Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1963 4 for Texas Extra Uncredited [23]
1964 Nothing But a Man Jocko [23][11]
1968 The Thomas Crown Affair Carl [23][11]
5 Card Stud George "Little George", Mama's Bartender [23][11]
1970 The Liberation of L.B. Jones Sonny "Sonny Boy" Mosby [23][11]
1971 Man and Boy Nate Hodges [23][11]
1972 Bone "Bone" [23][11]
The Limit Mark Johnson Also director [23][11]
Across 110th Street Lieutenant Pope [23][11]
1973 Live and Let Die Dr. Kananga / Mr. Big [23][11]
1974 Truck Turner Harvard Blue [23][11]
1975 Report to the Commissioner Richard "Crunch" Blackstone [23][11]
Sharks' Treasure Ben Flynn [23][11]
Friday Foster Colt Hawkins [23][11]
1976 Drum Blaise [11][24]
The Monkey Hustle "Big Daddy" Foxx [23][11]
1978 Blue Collar John "Smokey" James [23][11]
1979 Alien Dennis Parker, Technician [23][11]
1980 Brubaker Dickie Coombes [23][11]
Othello Othello No commercial release [23][24]
1982 Fighting Back Ivanhoe Washington [23][11]
1983 The Star Chamber Detective Harry Lowes [23][11]
1984 Terror in the Aisles Himself
1985 Warning Sign Major Connolly [23][11]
1986 The Park Is Mine Eubanks
Eye of the Tiger J.B. Deveraux [23][11]
1987 Prettykill Harris [23][11]
Terminal Entry Colonel Styles [23][24]
The Running Man William Laughlin [23][11]
1988 Midnight Run FBI Special Agent Alonzo Mosely [23][11]
1989 The Jigsaw Murders Dr. Filmore [23][24]
A Whisper To A Scream Jules Tallard [23][24]
Ministry of Vengeance Mr. Whiteside [23][11]
Tripwire Lee Pitt [23][12]
1991 Hangfire Police Lieutenant [23][11]
Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare Doc [23][24]
1992 Intent to Kill Captain Jackson
1993 Extreme Justice Detective Larson [23][24]
1994 The Puppet Masters Ressler [23][24]
1995 Dead Badge Captain Hunt
Out-of-Sync Quincy [23][11]
1996 Two If by Sea FBI Agent O'Malley [23][11]
Almost Blue Terry
2008 Witless Protection Ricardo Bodi / Alonzo Mosley Final film role [23][11]


Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1966–1967 The Big Valley "Lobo" Brown
Season 2, episode 11: "The Iron Box"
Season 3, episode 15: "The Buffalo Man"
1967 Death Valley Days Abraham Season 15, episode 26: "A Man Called Abraham" [12]
1968 Bonanza[23] Joshua "Child" Barnett Season 10, episode 2: "Child" [12]
1968 The High Chaparral Sergeant Major Season 2, episode 10: "The Buffalo Soldiers"
Western Heritage Bronze Wrangler Award for Best Fictional Television Drama
1968 Daniel Boone Luke Season 5, episode 11: Big, Black and out There [23][12]
1969 Mannix Gabe Johnson / Gabriel Dillon Season 2, episode 18: "Death in a Minor Key" [23][12]
1969 Hawaii Five-O Marine Lance Corporal John T. Auston Season 1, episode 14: "King of the Hill" [12]
1969 Daniel Boone Jonah Season 5, episode 18: "Jonah" [23][12]
1970 Gunsmoke Piney Biggs Season 16, episode 10: "The Scavengers" [23][12]
1970 Night Chase Ernie Green Television film
1971 Night Gallery Buckner Season 2, episode 13: "The Messiah on Mott Street" [23][12]
1976 Raid on Entebbe President Idi Amin Dada Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie [23][24]
1976 Crunch Richard "Crunch" Blackstone Television film
1980 Rage! Ernie Television film
1982 A House Divided: Denmark Vesey's Rebellion Denmark Vesey Television film [23]
1983 The A-Team Charlie "East-Side Charlie" Struthers Series 1, episode 8: "The Out-of-Towners" (1983) [23][12]
1983 For Love and Honor Sergeant James "China" Bell Television film [23][24]
1983 Women of San Quentin Sergeant Therman Patterson Television film [23][24]
1983–1984 For Love and Honor Sergeant James "China" Bell 12 episodes [23][24]
1985 Playing With Fire Fire Chief Walker Television film [23][24]
1985 The Park is Mine Eubanks Television film [23][24]
1985 Badge of the Assassin Detective Cliff Fenton NYPD Television film [23][24]
1985 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Convict Season 1, episode 10: "Prisoners" [23][12]
1986 Harem Agha Kislar Television film [23][24]
1987 Desperado Bede Television film [23][24]
1987 In Self Defense Lieutenant Tyrell Television film [23][24]
1987 Perry Mason: The Case of the Scandalous Scoundrel General Sorenson Television film
1987 Murder, She Wrote Lieutenant Bradshaw Season 4, episode 8: "Steal Me a Story" (1987) [23][12]
1989 Prime Target Gilmore Brown Television film [24][12]
1990 After the Shock William McElroy Television film [23][24]
1992 Chrome Soldiers Perry Beach Television film [23][12]
1993 It's Nothing Personal Lieutenant Riley Television film
1993 The American Clock Isaac Television film
1993 seaQuest DSV Captain Jack Clayton Season 1, episode 6: "Treasures of the Tonga Trench"
1993–2000 Homicide: Life on the Street Lieutenant Al Giardello Nominated—NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series (1996–1999) [23][12]
1994 The Corpse Had a Familiar Face Detective Martin Talbot Television film [23][24]
1994 TV Nation Himself Pilot episode
1995 Deadline for Murder: From the Files of Edna Buchanan Marty Talbot Television film
1997 The Defenders: Payback Judge Williams Television film
2000 Homicide: The Movie Al "Gee" Giardello Television film [23][12]
2000 The Ride Carter Television film
2001 Stiletto Dance Captain Rick Sands Television film

Video games

Year Title Role Notes Ref.
2014 Alien: Isolation Dennis Parker, Technician Voice role; Nostromo Edition [25]

In popular culture

A hardcore punk band from California took its name from the actor. He was also mentioned by Childish Gambino on the track 'yaphet kotto (freestyle)'.


  1. ^ a b "Dramas and Works Prepared for Oral Delivery: Current Registrations". Catalog of Copyright Entries: Third series. Library of Congress. Copyright Office. 1968. p. 21 – via Google Books. The Immaculates by Rita Ingried, pseud. of Rita Ingried Kotto & Frederick Samuel Kotto
  2. ^ Williams, Monte (January 31, 1994). "The Soul of Diversity". People. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  3. ^ California Marriage Index, 1960–1985, California Department of Health
  4. ^ a b "Yaphet Kotto: James Bond villain and Alien actor dies at 81". BBC News. March 16, 2021. Retrieved March 16, 2021.
  5. ^ a b Ives, Mike (March 16, 2021). "Yaphet Kotto, Bond Villain and 'Alien' Star, Dies at 81". The New York Times.
  6. ^ Faxx, Israel (May 6, 1999). "Lt. Giardello Doesn't Skip His Prayers". allbusiness.com. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007.
  7. ^ Barnes, Mike (March 15, 2021). "Yaphet Kotto, Actor in 'Homicide: Life on the Street,' 'Live and Let Die,' and 'Alien,' Dies at 81". The Hollywood Reporter.
  8. ^ Bush, Lawrence (November 15, 2014). "November 15: African-American Jews on TV | Jewish Currents Archive".
  9. ^ Coyle, Jake (March 16, 2021). "Yaphet Kotto of 'Live and Let Die,' 'Alien,' dies at 81". Associated Press. Retrieved March 16, 2021 – via The Seattle Times.
  10. ^ "Yaphet Kotto Filmography". AllMovie. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae "Yaphet Kotto". American Film Institute. Retrieved March 16, 2021.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s "Yaphet Kotto List of Movies and TV Shows". TV Guide. Retrieved March 16, 2021.
  13. ^ "Yaphet Kotto – Have You Ever Seen The Blues" – via www.45cat.com.
  14. ^ Letters of Note: STAR TREK/Casting, lettersofnote.com; August 2010.
  15. ^ "A Man Called Abraham on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved September 22, 2018.
  16. ^ a b c Pulver, Andrew (March 16, 2021). "Yaphet Kotto, star of Live and Let Die and Alien, dies aged 81". The Guardian. Retrieved March 16, 2021.
  17. ^ "Yaphet Kotto: James Bond villain and Alien actor dies at 81". BBC News. March 16, 2021. Retrieved March 16, 2021.
  18. ^ Ivry, Benjamin (March 17, 2021). "Remembering Yaphet Kotto, charismatic actor and proud Jew". The Forward. Retrieved March 17, 2021.
  19. ^ Cramer, Philissa (March 16, 2021). "Yaphet Kotto, 'Homicide' and 'Alien' actor who was one of the first Black Jews on screen, dies at 81". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved December 26, 2021.
  20. ^ Ebden, Theresa (August 25, 2000). "An actor in search of character detail". The Globe and Mail.
  21. ^ Pulver, Andrew (March 16, 2021). "Yaphet Kotto, star of Live and Let Die and Alien, dies aged 81". The Guardian.
  22. ^ Medina, Victor (March 16, 2021). "One of the Last Surviving Cast Members of 'Alien' Has Died (VIDEO)". The Week In Nerd. Retrieved January 2, 2024.
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl "Yaphet Kotto". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved March 16, 2021.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u "Yaphet Kotto". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on May 6, 2016. Retrieved March 16, 2021.
  25. ^ Shafer, Ellise (March 16, 2021). "Yaphet Kotto, Bond Villain and 'Alien' Star, Dies at 81". Variety.

Further reading