I saw rumors on twitter last night that Yaphet Kotto had died but, since it was just random people on social media, I didn’t want to say anything until the news was officially confirmed. Sadly, it was confirmed this morning. Yesterday, at the age of 81, Yaphet Kotto passed away in the Philippines.
Yaphet Kotto was a busy actor who appeared in so many classic films that I think we took sometimes took his talent for granted. Kotto, though, was an actor who could play almost anything. He was usually cast in dramas but he could also do comedy. He could play both villains and heroes with equal skill. He held his own opposite Anthony Quinn in Across 110th Street. He was one of the best Bond villains in Live and Let Die. He was one of the toughest members of the crew of the Nostromo in Alien and a key member of the resistance in The Running Man. Long before Forest Whitaker won an Osar for playing the role in The Last King of Scotland, Yaphet Kotto brought Idi Amin to terrible life in Raid on Entebbe. He was just as believable as an FBI agent in Midnight Run as he was as a auto worker in Blue Collar. Blue Collar was probably he best performance, one in which he easily upstaged both Richard Pryor and Harvey Keitel.
For me, Yaphet Kotto will always be remembered Lt. Al Giardello in Homicide, the philosophical leader of Baltimore’s murder cops. Giardello was written to be a stern and no-nonsense leader but Kotto played him with a subtle sense of humor. He was the ideal leader and one the key cast members of one of the best shows of the 90s. Andre Braugher may have gotten the critical acclaim and Richard Belzer may have gotten an entire new career based on playing John Munch in a dozen different shows but Kotto was the one who often held the show together. Though Homicide was cancelled before it’s time, the show was allowed a reunion movie to tie up loose ends. The movie ended with the death of Giardello and it felt appropriate because, as played by Yaphet Kotto, Giardello was the heart and the soul of the show.
Yaphet Kotto, a great actor, has left us but he will never be forgotten.