He’s tall, dark and always played a no-nonsense intimidating character, Yaphet Kotto was a force to be reckoned particularly during the film Blaxploitation era of the 70’s. Refusing to play many of the stereotypical roles offered to Blacks during this time, Kotto held his ground and instead, stuck to roles where he oozed masculinity and strength.
Yaphet Frederick Kotto was born on November 15, 1939, in New York City to parents who were not only Central African but also practicing Jews. Kotto had a hard-knock life growing up because he found himself always having to defend not only his race but also faith. Kotto caught the acting bug after seeing the 1954 film “On the Waterfront” and becoming mesmerized by Marlon Brando’s riveting performance in it.
At the age of 19, Kotto decided to give acting a serious try and managed to snag numerous stage roles along the way until landing a big film break in 1963 as an extra in the western comedy, “4 for Texas.” Soon, there were more stage performances and Kotto’s body of work expanded to roles where he played opposite such legendary actors as Ossie Davis and Louis Gossett, Jr. The movie roles got bigger and eventually, Kotto found himself playing more memorable characters like Carl, the professional thief in the 1968 hit film, “The Thomas Crown Affair” starring Steve McQueen. Kotto then went on to portray the character of Little George, the sympathetic bartender in 1969’s “5 Card Stud” with Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum.
By the time the 70’s rolled around, there was a new movement in films and Hollywood saw dollar figures, suddenly discovering the profitability of blacks on the big screen. Kotto stayed pretty busy during this era sometimes making two, three or more films in one year. Some of the performer’s most memorable box office hits, “Across 110th Street,” “Truck Turner,” “Report to the Commissioner,” and “Friday Foster,” where he starred opposite the hot babe of the decade, Pam Grier. Kotto also took his talents to the small screen appearing in the groundbreaking 1977 TV mini-series “Roots.”
In 1982, he won critical acclaim when he played the title role of famed rebel slave Denmark Vessey in the PBS classic, “A House Divided: Denmark Vessey. The 90’s brought about even more success for Kotto when he landed the role of the extremely cultured, African-American/Italian-American Lt. Al Giardello on the hit TV police drama, “Homicide: Life on the Streets” which ran from 1993 to 1999.
Kotto continued to play various roles throughout the years immediately following his hit TV show drama. The multi-talented artist also devoted time to writing novels and even published an autobiography, “Royalty.” In the book, Kotto alleged he had royal lineages from Cameroon and England. He claimed that in the late 19th century, Edward VII had an affair with Princess Nakande of Cameroon, and their subsequent descendants included his father. Kotto’s claims hit the press and when Buckingham Palace got wind, reportedly, tempers flared, and letters that vehemently refuted his allegations were written by the Royals to the actor.
So where is Yaphet Kotto?
Over the last few years, the three times married, dad of five has done very little acting and is instead devoting his time to discussing his beliefs surrounding alien life forces. Not only does the actor reportedly believe he has seen aliens but he is certain, they have abducted him as well. Even though the media has challenged Kotto’s mental health, the man, who touts the fact that he has an IQ of 196, insists he has all his marbles. Kotto, who co-starred in the 1979 mega-hit thriller “Alien,” reveals, he has believed in extraterrestrial beings since age 10.
In an interview he did recently with the online publication VICE, the 77-year-old explained his alien existence theory:
“It started when I was about nine or ten years old. I remember being told I couldn’t go outside, so I was looking out at the streets of the Bronx, New York watching the kids play stickball in a kneeling position. When I turned around, a figure was behind me, it was at least five or six feet tall with an elongated head. It appeared, then jumped to the back of me and disappeared. From that moment on, it was one experience after another, which culminated into my sighting in the Philippines and during the filming of Alien. I always felt like I had a connection with them. They aren’t going to go away and I honestly believe these species are close to making themselves known in this century, to this generation.”
As far as Kotto giving a damn if no one believes his sci-fi meet-and-greets, well, he did not mince words when he told VICE, “I really don’t care whether anyone thinks I’m delusional. My delusion is over. I’ve taken a position on that.”
Well alrighty now!
Yaphet, 50BOLDers are glad you’re still doing YOU!