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Yaphet Kotto

Yaphet Kotto
Leif Erickson (left) and Yaphet Kotto (right) in The High Chaparral (1968)
Born Yaphet Frederick Kotto
(1939-11-15) November 15, 1939
New York City, New York, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Actor
Years active 1963–2008, 2014
Spouse(s) Tessie Sinahon (m. 1998)
Antoinette Pettyjohn (m. 1975-?) (divorced, 2 children)
Rita Ingrid Dittman (m. 1962–75) (divorced, 3 children)

Yaphet Frederick Kotto (born November 15, 1939) is an American actor, known for numerous film roles, as well as starring in the NBC television series Homicide: Life on the Street (1993–99) as Lieutenant Al Giardello. His films include the science-fiction/horror film Alien (1979), and the Arnold Schwarzenegger science-fiction/action film The Running Man (1987). He portrayed the main villain Dr. Kananga/Mr. Big in the James Bond movie Live and Let Die (1973). He appeared opposite Robert De Niro in the comedy thriller Midnight Run (1988) as FBI agent Alonzo Moseley.


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
  • Personal life 3
  • Filmography 4
    • Film 4.1
    • Television 4.2
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7

Early life

Kotto was born in New York City. His mother was Gladys Marie, a nurse and U.S. Army officer. His father is Avraham Kotto (originally named Njoki Manga Bell), a businessman from Cameroon who immigrated to the United States in the 1920s. In his autobiography titled Royalty, Kotto writes that his father was "the crown prince of Cameroon;" however, Cameroon is a republic and its monarchs now have limited responsibilities as auxiliaries of the state whom they must support at all times. This is a typical example of an intrastate African monarchy.[1]

Kotto said he learned that his father's family was royal in adult life while studying his family's lineage, and said he is a descendant of Queen Victoria.[2] According to Kotto, his father was an observant Jew who spoke Hebrew. Kotto's mother, who was of Panamanian descent, converted to Judaism before marrying his father.[3][4] Kotto claims that his great-grandfather, whom he names "King Alexander Bell," ruled the Douala region of Cameroon in the late-19th century and was also a practicing Jew.[3] Kotto has said that his paternal family originated from Israel many centuries ago, migrating to Egypt and then Cameroon, and have been African Jews for many generations.[3][5][6] Apart from Kotto's own claims, these genealogical statements remain unsupported by other sources. His claim of being a descendant of Queen Victoria has been denied by the Buckingham Palace press office.[7]

He has said that being a black Jew made it more difficult for him as a child. "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."[8][9]

The Bell family is indeed a very powerful, well known and respected royal family in the Wouri estuary of what is now the Republic of Cameroon, with authority over the township of Bell. They were leaders of the Duala people long before Cameroon became a republic, and it is actually the European colonists who first called the Duala leaders kings. The first Duala leader to use the title for himself was King Ndumbe Lobe Bell, who succeeded his father Lobé Bébé Bell in 1858 and ruled until 1897. Unfortunately, in 1914 King Rudolf Duala Manga Bell was executed for high treason by the Germans, who suppressed the monarchy. Under the laws of the current Republic of Cameroon (founded 1960), the reigning prince is considered an auxiliary of the state which he must support at all times. On January 24, 2014 Jean Yves Dieudonné Gaston Eboumbou Douala Manga Bell succeeded his father Prince René Douala Manga Bell.[10][11]


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.

His film debut was in 1963 in an uncredited role in 4 For Texas. 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) . 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-fihorror film Alien. He followed with a supporting role in the 1980 prison drama Brubaker. In 1983, he guest-starred as mobster "Charlie" in the 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.[12]

He played Lieutenant Al Giardello in the long-running television series Homicide: Life on the Street.

He has written two books: Royalty, and The Second Coming of Christ, and also wrote scripts for Homicide: Life on the Street (1993–1999).

In 2014, Kotto portrayed the voice of Parker for the video game Alien: Isolation, reprising the same role he played in the movie Alien in 1979.[13]

Personal life

Kotto married Tessie Sinahon in July 1998. They currently live in Baltimore, Maryland. He was previously married to Antoinette Pettyjohn, his second marriage, whom he married on January 29, 1975. They have two children together. His first marriage was to Rita Ingrid Dittman, whom he married in 1962. They divorced in 1975, and have three children together.



Year Title Role Notes
1963 4 for Texas (uncredited)
1964 Nothing But a Man Jocko
1968 5 Card Stud Little George (Mama's bartender)
1968 Thomas Crown Affair, TheThe Thomas Crown Affair Carl
1970 Liberation of L.B. Jones, TheThe Liberation of L.B. Jones Sonny Boy Mosby
1972 Across 110th Street Lt. Pope
1972 Bone Bone
1973 Live and Let Die Dr. Kananga / Mr. Big
1974 Truck Turner Harvard Blue
1975 Report to the Commissioner Richard 'Crunch' Blackstone
1975 Sharks' Treasure Ben Flynn
1975 Friday Foster Colt Hawkins
1976 Drum Blaise
1976 Monkey Hustle, TheThe Monkey Hustle Big Daddy Foxx
1977 Raid on Entebbe President Idi Amin Dada Nominated-Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
1978 Blue Collar Smokey James
1979 Alien Parker
1980 Brubaker Richard 'Dickie' Coombes
1983 Star Chamber, TheThe Star Chamber Det. Harry Lowes
1984 Terror in the Aisles Himself
1985 Warning Sign Major Connolly [14]
1985 Badge of the Assassin Det. Cliff Fenton NYPD
1986 Eye of the Tiger J. B. Deveraux
1986 Park is Mine, TheThe Park is Mine Eubanks
1987 Running Man, TheThe Running Man William Laughlin
1988 Midnight Run FBI Agent Alonzo Mosely
1990 Tripwire Lee Pitt
1991 Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare Doc
1993 Extreme Justice Larson
1994 Puppet Masters, TheThe Puppet Masters Ressler
1996 Two If by Sea FBI Agent O'Malley
2008 Witless Protection Ricardo Bodi (alias Alonzo Mosley)


Year Title Role Notes
1967 The Big Valley Damien Episode 15 Season 3: "The Buffalo Man"
1968 Bonanza Child Barnett Season 10 Episode 2: "Child"
1968 High Chaparral, TheThe High Chaparral Sergeant Major Episode 38: "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
1969 Mannix black jazz musician Gabe Johnson Season 2 Episode 18: "Death in a Minor Key"
1969 Hawaii Five-O Marine Lance Corporal John T. Auston Season 1 Episode 14: "King of the Hill"
1969 Daniel Boone Jonah Season 5 Episode 18: "Jonah"
1970 Gunsmoke Piney Biggs Episode 294: "The Scavengers"
1971 Night Gallery Buckner Season 2 Episode 13: "The Messiah on Mott Street"
1977 Roots
1983 For Love and Honor Platoon Sgt. James "China" Bell "The Case of the Scandalous Scoundrel" (1987)
1993–2000 Homicide: Life on the Street Lieutenant Al Giardello Nominated-NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series (1996-1999)


  1. ^ Lt. Giardello Doesn't Skip His Prayers at the Wayback Machine (archived November 7, 2007)
  2. ^ Yaphet Kotto Biography (1944-)
  3. ^ a b c Lt. Giardello Doesn't Skip His Prayers. | Society, Social Assistance & Lifestyle > Religion & Spirituality from
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Bill Zwecker, Yaphet Kotto tells of royal `link` Chicago Sun-Times, March 11, 1997 – High Beam
  8. ^ "People, places & things in the news", South Coast Today.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Letters of Note: STAR TREK/Casting
  13. ^ Yaphet Kotto at the Internet Movie Database
  14. ^ "Warning Sign (1985)", IMDb.

Further reading

  • The Royalty: A Spiritual Awakening (1997), autobiography; ISBN 0-9655950-1-3

External links

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