One of Hollywood’s few Black Jewish actors was proud of his Jewish heritage and African roots.
By Paul Shindman, World Israel News
One of Hollywood’s few black Jewish actors, Yaphet Kotto, has passed away at the age of 81, after a career that spanned half a century and cast him in memorable rolls with stars like Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver and Roger Moore.
Kotto’s wife, Sinahon Thessa, posted on Facebook that her husband died in the Philippines.
“This is a very painful moment for me to inform you all fans, friends and family,” Thessa said. “You played a villain on some of your movies but for me you’re a real hero and to a lot of people also. A good man, a good father, a good husband and a decent human being, very rare to find.”
Yaphet Kotto’s father came to America from Cameroon in the 1920s and was an observant Jew who spoke Hebrew, the website MaNishtana documented. His mother, Gladys Marie, converted to Judaism and Kotto related that his father’s family originated from Israel and migrated to Egypt and then Cameroon, and had been African Jews for many generations.
Born and raised in New York City, Kotto told the Jewish blogger MaNishtana that he was picked on because he was both black and Jewish.
“It was rough coming up,” Kotto said. “And then going to shul, putting a yarmulke on, having to face people who were primarily Baptists in the Bronx meant that on Fridays, I was in some heavy fistfights”.
At one point Kotto said that if he had not discovered acting, he would have become a rabbi.
In an interview with Inside Hook two years ago, he said it was his “faith that’s gotten me everything.”
“Yaphet Kotto was one of the greats, actor, writer & screenwriter … but especially for me, one of the first highly visible Black Jews I ever knew of. Hearing his story helped me find my way home. His memory will be a blessing,” tweeted black Jewish activist Mx. Amadi
Some of his biggest roles were as the bad guy in the James Bond film “Live and Let Die,” as an astronaut in the sci-fi–horror film “Alien,” and as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada in the 1977 TV film “Raid on Entebbe,” which got him a nomination for an Emmy Award. He is best known to TV fans as the character Lieutenant Al Giardello in the long-running television series “Homicide: Life on the Street.”
Hollywood stars paid tribute to their fellow actor, praising Kotto’s career and mourning his loss.
“You were so memorable in every role you did. Your presence and talent were undeniable and magnetic… whether you were the villain or the hero. Rest well Yaphet Kotto. God bless your wife and family. You will be missed,” tweeted Acadamy Award winner Viola Davis.
“Awesome man. Awesome actor. Awesome career. Thank you Yaphet Kotto,” tweeted actor Mark Hamill, best known as the Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movie franchise.
Kotto is survived by his wife Sinahon and six children from two previous marriages.