Yaphet Kotto, ALIEN & MIDNIGHT RUN Star, Dies At 81

Yaphet Kotto, a towering and singular presence on American screens and stages during the late 20th century, died suddenly in the Philippines per a post by his wife. He was 81 years old.

The tall, deep-voiced Actors Studio-trained thespian was excellent in every role he played and his perfomances were as memorable as they were varied. He was a Bond villian with the comically bad death in LIVE IN LET DIE. A deep space crew member from the sci-fi landmark ALIEN. The flustered FBI agent in the seminal road comedy MIDNIGHT RUN. His seven-season run as Lt. Al Giardello on "Homicide: Life on the Street". Arnold's competition in the rollicking cult classic THE RUNNING MAN. A cop in the gritty Harlem-set ACROSS 110TH STREET. 

Universal. Shutterstock Images.

His most underrated, and perhaps, most underseen movie as well as that of his co-stars, is the dark, excellent auto-worker drama BLUE COLLAR. Written and directed by Paul Schrader, the film takes a cold, hard look at the plight of the blue-collar working man when he's getting screwed seemingly every which way. (It's also the best performance of Richard Pryor's career.)

The beloved Kotto also left his mark in THE STAR CHAMBER, BRUBAKER, THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1968) and a plethora of TV roles. If anything, it seems like Kotto should've gotten more roles as he aged but that wasn't the case. After "Homicide", we didn't see nearly enough of him. He didn't work much this century but his legacy was secure a long time before that. Interestingly, he did turn down a chance to place Lando Calrissian as he was just coming off a space movie and said no to PREDATOR as well. 

Between his turns as Parker in ALIEN, Alonzo Mosely in MIDNIGHT RUN, and Smokey in BLUE COLLAR, Kotto showed his extraoradinary range. If I had to guess, I'd say that ALIEN is the movie that he's most associated with. His easy chemistry with Harry Dean Stanton provides a chummy vibe for the ultimately doomed workers. But one could just as easily say MIDNIGHT RUN. His deadpan work as the exasperated fed provided a comic punch as he went toe-to-toe with DeNiro. Whatever way you preferred Kotto, his work was always stellar and always left its mark. Most actors are lucky to be remembered for one role; Kotto will always be remembered for a handful in different genres and mediums.

Farewell to an acting legend with the remarkable résumé and one-of-a-kind presence. Remember and honor his work by checking out ALIEN or MIDNIGHT RUN on HBOMAX.