Roger Moore, the suave British actor who put romance before ruthlessness in his portrayal of James Bond in seven of the famous franchise’s films, has died. He was 89.
He died Tuesday in Switzerland “after a short but brave battle with cancer,” Moore’s three children said in a letter shared on their father’s Twitter account. “We know our own love and admiration 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,” they wrote.
For 12 years, from “Live and Let Die” (1973) through “A View to a Kill” (1985), Moore owned the role of Agent 007, the martini-drinking, lady-loving British spy introduced in the novels of Ian Fleming. His take on the character was compared, inevitably, to that of Sean Connery, the original movie Bond.
“Gone were the macho toughness and ruthlessness of Connery’s Bond,” wrote Michael Di Leo in “The Spy Who Thrilled Us: A Guide to the Best of Cinematic James Bond” (2002). “In their place, Moore played up Bond’s suave and humorous side, and his films reflected this new tone.”
Moore’s take on the beloved film character generated mixed reactions, as reflected in surveys and polls done in 2012 to mark the 50th anniversary of Bond films.
A poll of Americans by CBS’s “60 Minutes” and Vanity Fair magazine ranked Moore as third-best of the six movie Bonds, behind Connery and Pierce Brosnan. He came in third, after Connery and Daniel Craig, in a survey by the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper. He ranked fourth, ahead of short-timers Timothy Dalton and George Lazenby, in a 2012 survey by NPR.
For his part, Moore said Craig, who took over the part in 2006, became his favorite Bond with “Skyfall” (2012).
In his 2008 memoir, “My Word Is My Bond,” Moore took issue with the rap that he — or anyone else, for that matter — could portray Bond too lightly.
He wrote of Bond: “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? Come on, it’s all a big joke.”
Roger George Moore was born on Oct. 14, 1927, in southwest London, the only child of George Moore, a police constable and amateur actor, and the former Lily Pope. With his grammar-school classmates, he was evacuated to southern England from 1939 to 1941 to escape the German bombing of London.
At 18, following a year at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, he was called to military service and served with the British Army in postwar Germany.
Back in London at 21, he acted in plays on stage and television, then moved to New York, where he found roles in two episodes of the television drama series “Robert Montgomery Presents.” Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. gave him a film contract, and he debuted on the big screen in “The Last Time I Saw Paris” (1954), with Elizabeth Taylor.
He got to kiss Lana Turner, in “Diane” (1956), before MGM cut him loose. He starred in the British TV series “Ivanhoe” in 1958-1959, then was signed by Warner Bros. Studios for films such as “The Miracle” (1959) and “ The Sins of Rachel Cade” (1961). He joined the cast of “Maverick,” the ABC Western, in 1960 as its star, James Garner, was leaving.
In “The Saint,” which aired in the U.K. on ITV, Moore found his biggest pre-Bond role, as Simon Templar, a roguish criminal with Robin Hood values. The show was picked up by NBC for an American audience.
Moore was working on another ITV series, “The Persuaders!” — with Tony Curtis — when James Bond came calling.
He was friends with Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, producers of the Bond movies, from London’s gambling clubs. After Connery finished his six-picture run with “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971), Broccoli and Saltzman offered Moore the role.
In reviewing Moore’s debut, “Live and Let Die,” New York Times critic Vincent Canby found him “more than acceptable in the role that made Sean Connery rich and unhappy with type-casting.” On the other hand, Richard Schickel of Time magazine said Moore and his co-stars “suffer a sort of weightlessness, a lack of humanness, which is what Sean Connery as 007 lent previous Bond adventures.”
In Moore’s second Bond feature, “The Man with the Golden Gun” (1974), director Guy Hamilton “wanted to toughen up my Bond a little,” Moore wrote, partly by having him threaten to break the arm of the villain’s girlfriend, played by Maud Adams.
“That sort of characterization didn’t sit easily with me,” Moore wrote. “I suggested my Bond would have charmed the information out of her by bedding her first. My Bond was a lover and a giggler. However, Guy was keen to make my Bond a little more ruthless, as Fleming’s original had been.”
“The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977), which introduced the henchman known as Jaws, played by 7-foot, 2-inch Richard Kiel, is often cited as the best of Moore’s seven Bond films.
It was followed by “Moonraker” (1979), again with Kiel as Jaws; “For Your Eyes Only” (1981); a reunion with Adams in “Octopussy” (1983); and, finally, “A View to a Kill,” released when Moore was 57. The Bond franchise was then passed to Dalton.
Moore insisted he was a grateful star throughout his Bond tenure, having “never forgotten my roots and how lucky I have been.” Broccoli gave a conflicting account in an autobiography he finished just before his death in 1996.
In the book, co-written by Donald Zec, Broccoli said Moore grew a sizable ego and by the end was springing “bizarre, neurotic little tricks,” such as demanding private planes and declining to appear at promotional events.
Moore spoofed his Bond connection in the all-star comedy “The Cannonball Run” (1981). His character, Seymour Goldfarb Jr., tells a menacing biker, “I must warn you, I’m Roger Moore!” Unimpressed, the biker slugs him in the mouth.
Long active with the United Nations Children’s Fund, Moore was knighted in 2003 by Queen Elizabeth II.
Moore’s first three marriages, to ice skater Doorn van Steyn, singer Dorothy Squires and Italian actress Luisa Mattioli, ended in divorce. With Mattioli, he had three children: Deborah, Geoffrey and Christian. In 2002, he married Christina Tholstrup.
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