September 12, 2014

Richard Kiel (1939-2014)

Actor Richard Kiel passed away on September 10, just a few days short of his 75th birthday. Kiel parlayed his towering size — due to a hormonal condition known as acromegaly — into a film and television career playing gigantic strongmen, mountainous henchmen, colossal aliens and mammoth monsters. When given a chance, he showed he could also act really well, too.

Kiel’s credits include many memorable parts. Early on, in 1962, he was the giant caveman, EEGAH, and the unforgettable alien in the classic TWILIGHT ZONE episode, TO SERVE MAN. His TV work included appearances on THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., THE WILD WILD WEST and KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER.

Kiel was the original actor chosen to play Bill Bixby’s green alter-ego in THE INCREDIBLE HULK (1978), but he was replaced a couple of days into the pilot shoot in favor of the more muscular Lou Ferrigno. Kiel was happy to bail, having found the full-body makeup and the thick contact lenses most uncomfortable. He was also offered the part of Darth Vader, but the role went to David Prowse after Kiel chose, instead, to play the steel-toothed “Jaws” opposite Roger Moore’s James Bond in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) and MOONRAKER (1979). It would be the character he’d be most remembered for, though he earned himself a whole new generation of fans with a celebrated turn in HAPPY GILMORE (1996).

Kiel is one of a handful of actors to play two different iterations of the Frankenstein Monster. In 1967, billed as Dick Kiel, he had bolts sticking out of his ears in I WAS A TEENAGE MONSTER, an episode of THE MONKEES in which the boys try to turn The Monster into a pop star. With a bit more to do than just look big and menacing, Kiel demonstrated a fine flair for comedy.

Kiel’s second pass at The Monster had him in full, classic makeup with blue face, flattop — and a bow tie — as a Haunted House club manager in the first season, first episode of THE HARDY BOYS/NANCY DREW MYSTERIES (1977).

In recent years, soldiering on despite a serious car accident in 1992 that left him with reduced mobility, Kiel enjoyed appearing on the convention circuit, happy to meet fans and generous with his time. Richard Kiel was a giant man who, by all accounts, had a heart to match.

Both of Richard Kiel’s Frankenstein appearances are on YouTube. Here are the full episodes of THE MONKEES: I WAS A TEENAGE MONSTER, and THE HARDY BOYS/NANCY DREW MYSTERIES: THE MYSTERY OF THE HAUNTED HOUSE.  

1 comment:

Mantan Calaveras said...

I knew him best from Eegah, as well as his wonderful interview with Mr. Lobo on Cinema Insomnia.

Always seemed like a really cool guy.

I had no idea he played Frankenstein! He pulls it off quite well!