Richard Kiel, whose towering height and distinctive baritone voice defined his nearly 50-year career in television and films, most notably as the steely toothed James Bond villain Jaws, died Wednesday afternoon in Fresno, Calif. at the age of 74, TMZ reports. The actor had been hospitalized after breaking his leg earlier in the week, but it is still unclear if that was related to his death.
Kiel’s rep did not immediately respond to EW’s request for comment.
The Detroit-born Kiel, who grew to be 7 feet 1.5 inches, worked various odd jobs, including cemetery plot salesman and nightclub bouncer, before making his television debut at age 21 in the NBC Western Laramie. His roles were always at least partially defined by his extraordinary physicality, including in the schlocky 1962 B-movie Eegah, which got a bit of a cult boost after being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, where Kiel played a giant caveman who falls for a California party girl he accidentally encounters in the desert. Kiel was also one of the top choices to play The Incredible Hulk—a role that would end up going to Lou Ferrigno after the producers decided they needed someone more muscular (and after Kiel had already filmed some of the pilot).
Kiel continued to score a number of memorable, if sometimes bit, roles including stints as villains in shows such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Wild Wild West and in films like The Longest Yard and Silver Streak. But Kiel would ultimately be defined by his role as Jaws, the metal-mouthed James Bond villain of the Roger Moore-era who first appeared in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me and was apparently so popular that they had him reprise his role in 1979’s Moonraker. Those famous teeth caused Kiel immense discomfort, though. “They were nauseating,” he told The Guardian in 2009. “They were up in the roof of your mouth and gave you a gagging effect – you felt like you were going to be sick. It did add to the stoic part of my character – to keep from throwing up.”
The 1980s did not prove to be particularly kind to Kiel’s career, but he burst back into the public’s favorable consciousness in 1996 (following a severe car crash and head injury that forced him to walk with a cane) as an eager, intimidating fan in Happy Gilmore. He also appeared in the live-action Inspector Gadget as “Famous Big Guy with Silver Teeth,” and lent his voice to the video game James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing and for the animated pic Tangled as Vlad.
Keil, also a screenwriter, penned a 2002 autobiography called Making It Big in the Movies, where he humorously detailed his unconventional career, revealing that he would often tell people he was 7’2″ just because it was easier to remember.
“My life has been very good just the way it is,” Kiel told Den of Geek in a 2009 interview. As for what he considered to be his greatest achievement? It’s probably not what you’d think. He said: “My best part would probably be Captain Drazak in Force 10 from Navarone. A lot of people don’t even know it’s me because I had a big beard and a great costume. As Jaws, I start off as a bad guy and turn into a good guy whereas in this I appear to be a good guy and turn into a really nasty guy.”