Richard Kiel Dies at 74; Played Jaws in Bond Films

Richard Kiel's passing with health issues reminds us the need to plan early for health issues as part of our retirement planning.

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Richard Kiel Dies at 74; Played Jaws in Bond Films
5 Min Read June 25th, 2015 Updated:September 13th, 2019
James Kelly

LTC News author focusing on long-term care and aging.

In 1992, Richard Kiel suffered a severe head injury in a car accident, which affected his balance. He was subsequently forced to walk with a cane to support himself (as shown in his appearance in Happy Gilmore, where he is seen leaning on a person or a cane). Afterward, Kiel used a scooter or wheelchair.

He also suffered from Acromegaly (ak-ro-meg-uh-lee), a chronic, life-threatening disease triggered by overproduction of growth hormone, most often caused by a pituitary tumor. Untreated, this excess of growth hormone leads to overproduction of a second hormone, IGF-I, which causes the disabling symptoms and the long-term health problems associated with the disorder.

Patients with acromegaly often suffer from headache, excessive sweating, soft-tissue swelling, joint disorders and, perhaps most striking, a progressive coarsening of facial features and enlargement of the hands, feet, and jaw. Untreated patients with acromegaly face a mortality rate two to four times higher than the average person, due to such serious long-term complications of the heart and respiratory diseases, diabetes and some forms of cancer.

FROM: New York Times -

Richard Kiel, an actor whose intimidating frame and striking features made him a natural choice to play thugs, giants, alien creatures and villains of various stripes — notably Jaws, the assassin with metal dentition in two James Bond films — died on Wednesday in Fresno, Calif. He was 74.

St. Agnes Medical Center confirmed the death without giving a cause, The Associated Press reported.

Mr. Kiel (pronounced keel) stood more than seven feet tall, weighed upwards of 300 pounds and had a hormonal disorder known as acromegaly, which is often associated with gigantism and causes a gradual enlargement of bones in the hands, the feet and the face, all of which gave him a distinctive appearance that he mustered effectively for both threatening and comic effect.

It frustrated him, he sometimes said, that people often confused him with other outsize entertainment figures, like Andre the Giant, the wrestler-turned-actor; Ted Cassidy, who played Lurch on “The Addams Family,” or Fred Gwynne, who was the Frankenstein-like Herman Munster on “The Munsters.”

Mr. Kiel, in 2000. Credit Diana Baldrica/The Fresno Bee, via Associated Press

But Mr. Kiel was nonetheless an easy-to-recognize presence on television, and a frequent one, beginning in the 1960s, playing characters with names like Moose, Iggy, Animal — and, inevitably, Tiny — on a variety of dramatic and comedy series.

His movie break came in “The Longest Yard” (1974), a comedy-melodrama set in a prison starring Burt Reynolds about a football game between convicts and guards. Mr. Kiel played a weight lifting inmate who turns out to be a bit of a crybaby. He subsequently played a henchman for an evil art dealer (Patrick McGoohan) in the antic chase movie “Silver Streak” (1976), with Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor, and Jill Clayburgh.

His next film role was the one with which he became most identified, as Jaws, who pursues the Roger Moore rendition of James Bond in “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977). A murderous hulk whose glinting dental work could chomp through a mountain tram cable and outbite a shark, Jaws returned in the next Bond film, “Moonraker” (1979), also with Mr. Moore. Here he goes through a character transformation, seeing the error of his loyalties, and joins Bond in the fight against evil, acquiring a sweet blond girlfriend in the process.

“There are very few people that are stone-faced killers in real life, so I think it’s a lot more interesting to play a villain as a person who is real,” Mr. Kiel said in a video interview posted on YouTube this year, explaining the popularity of Jaws. “A real-life person who still has a mother or a father, a girlfriend, a dog or something.”

Richard Dawson Kiel was born in the Detroit area on Sept. 13, 1939, and lived there until he was 8 when the family moved to Los Angeles. His parents ran an appliance store. After high school, he had numerous odd jobs, as a nightclub bouncer, a cemetery plot salesman and, as he recalled in 1985 on “Late Night With David Letterman,” a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman.

“I bet folks were happy to see you on the porch.”

David Letterman, 

It was a movie-buff aunt who suggested that Mr. Kiel try acting. In the early 1960s, he had parts on the western series “Laramie” and “The Rifleman.” More memorably, in 1962, with an enlarged cranium and an electronic voice, he was a deceitful visitor from outer space in “To Serve Man,” a classic episode of “The Twilight Zone.”

Mr. Kiel made guest appearances on a variety of television series, including “Lassie,” “Gilligan’s Island,” “I Dream of Jeannie,” “Honey West,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “The Monkees” and “I Spy.” He played Voltaire, an assistant to the evil scientist Dr. Miguelito Loveless (played by Michael Dunn, who had dwarfism) in several episodes of the comic adventure series “The Wild Wild West.”

His other films included “Force 10 From Navarone” (1979), a World War II film with Harrison Ford and Robert Shaw; “Pale Rider” (1985), a vaguely mystical western in which Clint Eastwood whips him in a fight; and “Happy Gilmore,” the farcical golf comedy with Adam Sandler in which Mr. Kiel plays a vocal and slightly mad-seeming fan.

Mr. Kiel revealed in a 2002 autobiography, “Making It Big in the Movies,” that he suffered from a fear of heights. He admitted that he had battled alcoholism and was able to stop drinking as a born-again Christian. In 1991, he was seriously injured in a car accident, affecting his balance and causing him to cut back on his work.

Mr. Kiel’s survivors include his wife, Diane, who is 5-feet-1 and whom he met in Georgia while filming “The Longest Yard,” and several children and grandchildren.

“Somebody once asked Diane what attracted her to me,” Mr. Kiel said in a 1978 interview with United Press International. “And she replied, ‘We see eye to eye on so many things.’ ”


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About the Author

An LTC News author focusing on long-term care and aging.

LTC News Contributor James Kelly

James Kelly

Contributor since August 21st, 2017

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