Actor Richard Kiel, 'Jaws' in Bond movies, dies in Fresno

Richard Kiel, the 7-foot-2-inch actor who reached fame by playing the James Bond villain "Jaws," died Wednesday at Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno. He was 74.

Kiel's steel-toothed character appeared in the 1977 Bond film "The Spy Who Loved Me," as well as "Moonraker" in 1979. He also played a golf fan in Adam Sandler's 1996 comedy "Happy Gilmore."

His oldest son, Richard George Kiel, said his father had been recovering from a femur fracture and the exact cause of his death is still unclear. Kiel's family was in the process of trying to get him transferred to a rehabilitation facility when he died unexpectedly.

Kiel and his family lived in Coarsegold from 1980 to 2002 and had been Clovis residents since.

The younger Kiel said his father's favorite experience was acting in the James Bond movies because he got to travel all over the world for two years between filming and promotion. But family always came first.

"Most people just know him from his screen persona, but he was a very gentle and loving man," his son said. "During the heyday in the '80s he often would turn down roles because they were too gruesome (and) he didn't think they would be a good experience for us."

As he lay in his hospital bed trying to recuperate, Kiel's main concerns were his children and wife, his son said.

"That's certainly the thing I miss about him the most already," he said.

Kiel would have turned 75 on Sept. 13. His son said the family had rented a house on the coast for a week to celebrate when he broke his leg. Even then, he said, his father selflessly proposed that everyone stick to the plan.

Randy Davis, 55, of Hilmar, co-host of Fresno Collect-A-Con, said Kiel was truly a "gentle giant."

Davis said Kiel was a special guest at Collect-A-Con twice, most recently in April, where vendors gather to sell things like comic books, action figures and sports cards.

Kiel was scheduled to be the special guest at the next Collect-A-Con on Oct. 4 in Merced, Davis said.

While Kiel often played the character of a "big guy to push a hero around" in movies and television shows, he wasn't intimidating in real life, Davis said.

He was very approachable and would spend all day at the Collect-A-Con events visiting with fans, Davis said.

"He was just one of the nicest fellas. With so many celebrities that I've run into at other shows, it's like, 'Oh I'm here but I'll be glad to get back home,' but he was never like that."

"He was a very humble person who was thankful for his life and what he got to do," Davis said. "He loved telling funny stories about working with Clint Eastwood on 'Pale Rider' and he always had nice things to say about his co-workers and his co-actors."

Dave Fly, 66, of Selma, co-host of Fresno Collect-A-Con, added of Kiel: "There was not a single actor that I know -- and I've been around the industry for a while -- that put him down in any way. They all loved him, they all cared about him, and they will miss him."

Kiel's son said his father felt strongly about giving back to the community. He suggested that those wishing to celebrate his father donate to UNICEF, his favorite charity. Kiel is survived by his wife, Jackie, three sons and a daughter.