Sir Roger Moore, the rakish English actor who turned a raised eyebrow into a cinematic art form as James Bond, died Tuesday in Switzerland after what his family called a “short but brave battle with cancer.” He was 89.
“It is with a heavy heart that we must announce our loving father, Sir Roger Moore, has passed away today in Switzerland after a short but brave battle with cancer,” read a statement from Moore’s family. “The love with which he was surrounded in his final days was so great it cannot be quantified in words alone.”
The family added their “love and admiration” for the late actor will be “magnified many times over, across the world, by people who knew him for his films, his television shows, and his passionate work for UNICEF which he considered to be his greatest achievement.”
In a separate statement, representatives for UNICEF paid tribute to Moore, who was one of the organization’s longest-serving Goodwill Ambassadors. (Moore worked with UNICEF for more than 25 years.)
“With the passing of Sir Roger Moore, the world has lost one of its great champions for children – and the entire UNICEF family has lost a great friend. In his most famous roles as an actor, Sir Roger was the epitome of cool sophistication; but in his work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, he was a passionate – and highly persuasive – advocate for children. He once said that it was up to all of us to give children a more peaceful future. Together with Lady Kristina, he worked very hard to do so. All of us at UNICEF extend our deepest sympathies to the Moore family, and join his many friends and admirers from around the world in paying tribute to his life and mourning his loss. He will be deeply missed.
Moore, of course, was best known for replacing Sean Connery as 007; he played the secret agent in seven films over 12 years, starting with 1973’s Live and Let Die and ending with 1985’s A View to a Kill. Critics weren’t always kind: “Moore is a handsome, suave, somewhat phlegmatic James Bond,” The New York Times complained in an early review. But for a generation of moviegoers growing up in the ’70s, he redefined the character as a tongue-in-cheek playboy with a gadget in every pocket.
Moore himself found the humor in Bond. “First of all, my whole reaction was always — he is not a real spy. You can’t be a real spy and have everybody in the world know who you are and what your drink is. That’s just hysterically funny,” he told the New Yorker in 2012. Of his films, he added, “I always felt you should let the audience share the joke.” Moore played Bond seven times, in Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, and A View to a Kill.
In that same 2012 interview, Moore praised Connery as the person who created Bond but found time to give kudos to Daniel Craig, the latest incarnation of the MI6 agent, as well. “Now they’ve found the Bond — Daniel Craig…. I always said Sean played Bond as a killer and I played Bond as a lover. I think that Daniel Craig is even more of a killer. He has this superb intensity; he’s a glorious actor.”
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Moore had a full career before slipping into 007’s tuxedo. He started out as a model in toothpaste advertisements, became a contract player at MGM in the ’50s, and found worldwide fame in the ’60s as Simon Templar, the enigmatic hero of The Saint, the British TV classic that ran from 1961 to 1969. After Bond, Moore’s screen appearances were few and often brief (he played a Blofeld-like super-villain in 1997’s Spice World and had a role as head of the evil SD-9 in an episode of Alias in 2002). But he remained active as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations, and lived with his fourth wife, Kristina Tholstrup, in homes in Monaco and Crans-Montana, Valais. He spent his later years writing his autobiography, My Word Is My Bond, which was published in November 2008. “How can he be a spy, yet walk into any bar in the world and have the bartender recognize him and serve him his favorite drink,” Moore philosophized in the book about the character that made him famous. “Come on, it’s all a big joke.”
In a statement, Moore’s family added that “the affection our father felt whenever he walked on to a stage or in front of a camera buoyed him hugely and kept him busy working into his 90th year, through his last appearance in November 2016 on stage at London’s Royal Festival Hall. The capacity crowd cheered him on and off stage, shaking the very foundations of the building just a short distance from where he was born.”
Read the family’s full statement below.